Dr Edward (Ned) Allen is a Cambridge Early Career Fellow and will be at CRASSH in Lent Term 2022.

Getting something stuck in your ear or head – but which? – is by no means a new phenomenon; nor is the urge to expunge an infectious strain of music a modern occupation. Involuntary Musical Imagery (INMI) has long perplexed lab technicians and clinical practitioners, not just because the syndrome resists formal diagnosis, but because our means of witnessing and treating the notorious ‘cognitive itch’ extend well beyond the parameters of physiological enquiry. The purpose of my new project, ‘Sticky Listening’, is to identify the changing forms and effects of this most notorious of acoustic phenomena. In doing so, it will take seriously the possibility that we might come to better understand the phenomenon if we find a way to combine the findings of neuroscience and the humanities. Rather than upholding the often crudely perceived distinction between fact and fiction, statistic and hunch, my aim will be to excavate the parallel histories of otology and the arts, to evaluate their intersections and points of resistance, and to gauge their present affinities, in public policy and the popular imagination. The process of description, I want to suggest, is crucial: earworms, earwigs, jingles, maggots, imps, crotchets, cognitive itchiness, sticky music, INMI. Whose vocabulary are we drawing on when we speak of neurotological tedium and trauma? What’s lost, and what’s gained, when we attempt to translate or naturalise the Ohrwurm– once an insect much feared by farmers, now a coil of pesky sound? These are some of the questions I’ll be looking to ask and answer while I’m at CRASSH.


Dr Edward Allen is a lecturer in the Faculty of English, and a Fellow of Christ’s College. His research centres for the most part on nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature and culture; he has a particular interest in music, sound studies, and media history. More detail about his research interests can be found on the Faculty of English webpage.


Tel: +44 1223 766886