If you only had a few minutes before you lost your hearing, what three songs would you listen to? British director Lindsey Dryden poses this question on her website, asking visitors for their "Panic Lists" -- answers have ranged from listening to "my son play jazz on any one of his three saxophones" to "Radiohead’s Paranoid Android, because it is like listening to 3 different songs in one track." The prompt works conceptually as a prequel to Dryden's first feature film, in which it becomes a catch-22 -- what would you listen to after you lost your hearing?
Dryden, who is deaf in one ear, explores the lives of three deaf subjects in her documentary, "Lost and Sound," which premiered at SXSW earlier this month. For each, music is such an inextricable part of their lives, they found a way back in -- or into it for the first time -- after losing their hearing.
Music critic and obsessive listener Nick Coleman, went deaf in one ear due to sudden sensorineural hearing loss. Coleman's bad ear "fizzle[s], hisse[s] and clank[s] around the clock like a detuned radio." At first, this painfully cut him off from the hundreds of records that line his apartment. Eventually, however, Coleman formed new mental paths to reach music, and even feels "the quality of [his] listening" has improved.
Holly Loach, a high-spirited 12-year-old, was diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis as a baby, leaving her profoundly deaf. The granddaughter of director Ken Loach (who stopped listening to music when Holly lost her hearing) and daughter of two musicians, music was not encouraged, but mandatory growing up. Holly has a cochlear implant and plays the piano unnaturally well, completing exercises that allow her to conceptualize the space between and heaviness of notes.
Emily Thornton, a dancer who has been profoundly deaf since birth, is also fitted with a cochlear implant, and is filmed as a student at the esteemed Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in England. In a particularly revealing moment, Thornton submerges her ears underwater in her bath -- it's the one place she can hear fully, she says.
Reactions to the film post-screening were warm, the audience sharing in something intimate and unexplainable about the human spirit. Dryden was flushed with happiness when she sat down with The Huffington Post to discuss how her relationship with music has changed, and the frightening prospect that she might one day go fully deaf.
How did you lose your hearing?
I lost my hearing in one ear when I was 3, and no one really knows how it happened. It was quite a mystery until a few years ago when I was getting a lot of dizziness, a lot of strange symptoms, and I was diagnosed with Meniere's disease, which may one day migrate to the other ear -- there's no way of knowing, there's no guarantee that it will happen or it won't. So, I've always been deaf, as long as I can remember. And I've always had an amazing relationship with music.
What was your relationship with music like before you lost your hearing -- was it more as a listener, or did you play an instrument?
I'm a slightly obsessive, annoying music listener. I have a history of really winding up my flatmates over the years by just being really obsessed with certain things over and over again. And I played the piano and the cello and things like that, but it's mainly listening.
How has being partially deaf affected that for you?
I sort of feel that it hasn't in many ways. I'm very careful when I go to gigs, got lots of nice things to block my ears up, and make sure they're protected because I'm very conscious of that, and I tend to force other people to look after their ears at gigs as well. When I go to classical music concerts, I always try to really carefully put myself in a place where I know I'll get a feeling of surround sound, cause I've never properly heard stereo -- but I don't know that, I don't know what the difference is, and to me what I hear is incredible.
You mentioned that there was the possibility you might go fully deaf -- has this film changed your feelings about that?
It has. I think it's a really frightening prospect that I might lose the hearing in my other ear one day. A couple of years ago I was sitting on the sofa, late at night watching a film, and suddenly my ears sounded strange and I thought, it's happening, this terrible thing that I'm petrified of is happening. But then I went to bed and got up in the morning and everything was back to normal again. And this film I think is about other people -- it's about three incredible, amazing people who I'm fascinated by -- but there were definitely moments during the filming where I felt this sense of relief and reassurance because the things that I learned, through those people and through the scientists that we worked with, were very comforting.
What we thought was interesting was how you visualize sound in the film. Was that conceptualized in any way by what you see in your brain?
I think it was just what I want to see in many ways (laughs). I wanted to create a quite subtle, beautiful way of visualizing sound. There's an organization in London called Deaf Rave, and they host raves that are so loud that deaf people feel the vibrations of the songs really fully and they sign the lyrics of the songs, and there are lots of video installations and lots of visuals going on there, so I did a lot of research looking into the kinds of things that they use, and ultimately came up with an amazing animation company in London called Karrot.
Did anything surprise you when you were making this, did you learn anything that you didn't already know?
Ooh. Good question. Hard question. Lots of things surprised me. When we went along to a hospital in Cambridge to see an incredible [doctor], David Baguley, he gave Nick… lots of really wonderful information about what happens when you lose your hearing, what happens to music, how to get it back again, how to train yourself. And all of that information was a real surprise because it was very clear and made a lot of sense of what had happened to Nick, what might happen to me. I was also continually surprised by how people can balance this feeling of being anxious all the time about their hearing with not being anxious about it at all and just getting on with their lives. I was really dazzled by the people in the film for that.
Watch the trailer for "Lost and Sound":
What three songs would you listen to if you only had a few minutes of ordinary hearing left? Let us know in the comments, or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.