Ben Collins Finds Suffering, Solace In Sound

Ben Collins has three different ear conditions that cause him pain. Yet his music is also what brings him peace.

Ben Collins can’t imagine a world without music.

He’s a music producer, songwriter, sound engineer and sonic inventor. You may know him from the local band, Minihorse. He even pals around with a humanoid robot named Sophia, which he has programmed to sing karaoke.

Quite a feat, if not a total contradiction, considering that sound is the very thing that causes him pain, anxiety and frustration. 

See, Ben has three ear conditions — tinnitus, hyperacusis and misophonia. It’s rare he experiences the symptoms of all three conditions at one time, but in his everyday life, at any given moment, he endures some kind of sonic assault.

Ben shouldn’t make sense, but he does.

“One silver lining of all this stuff is that it reframes your mindset, realizing that suffering is this natural condition.” — Ben Collins, musician

Maren Celest
Maren Celest

If you do a simple online search of these conditions, you’ll see them described as torturous, unbearable, and life-altering. They are nearly impossible to treat, and they trigger anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

“I’ve seen people on forums that have moved into the woods and stuff because they can’t even live in the same environment they used to, because it’s just too painful for their ears,” he says. 

But Ben doesn’t live in isolation. He actually lives in an apartment that serves as both his living space and a music studio. What he has found are ways to make his symptoms manageable, including purchasing a pair of quality noise-cancelling headphones. 

But mostly, Ben just leans in.

When he steps on to the stage, he enters an unpredictable space. He feels at home rocking out with his guitar, yet he never knows if an unexpected burst of sound from a nearby speaker will send him into a panic. Unpredictability seems scary, but it’s not to him.

“The dangers that you’re afraid of aren’t as bad as the effects of being afraid,” Ben says. “One silver lining of all this stuff is that it reframes your mindset, realizing that suffering is this natural condition.” 

So he won’t stop playing music. He can’t.

Click on the player above to hear musician Ben Collins recreate what his world sounds like, and talk about how he copes through music.

This piece was produced as part of the Transom Traveling Workshop in Detroit, Mich.

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