A Different Way of Listening

Lindsey Dryden on Hearing Loss, Music, and Her Documentary Film

A visual representation from the documentary film Lost and Sound.
Filmmaker Lindsey Dryden is a music lover who’s deaf in one ear, and her experiences led her to create Lost and Sound, a SXSW world-premiered documentary film about music through the lens of hearing loss and deafness. We chatted with her after a New York City screening by the Film Society at Lincoln Center in April.

It says in your filmmaker bio that you’re “obsessed with music.” What’s your relationship with music? How did you get into it?

I’m definitely more of a listener now than I am a player. I started playing piano when I was a kid; and played the clarinet for a while, terribly; then the cello for a while, badly but happily. Piano is something that I love.

But for me it’s mostly about listening and about the stories around music and the way that people gather around music. Most of my friendships, if they haven’t started in some kind of music or film environment, they have certainly been cemented in that—gigs and concerts and festivals, and mix tapes from lovers and friends. These ways that music brings people together and helps you share stories is a really important part of it for me.

I started off when I was a kid in the car, on long car rides through the countryside, and my parents would play their cassette tapes in the car, and some of them happened to be pretty good. And so I fell in love with music that way, and gradually built my own collection. It’s about the sound, and the emotion and the stories around music as much as it is about listening, I suppose.

A lot of music listening is set up in stereo, where you can only hear certain instrumental sounds on one side or the other. Have music snobs or audiophiles ever questioned you about not being able to listen in stereo?

Several of my friends are musicians or music writers, and they have very strong feelings about it. Lots of them don’t believe in stereo; they think mono is the way. For some people stereo is really not an issue—they say, “Eh, you’re not missing anything.”

I’m sure that people who hear in stereo hear something different, but their different isn’t better.

But I’ve had some debates with friends and people I’ve met about whether what I’m hearing or what a deaf person is hearing is as good as what a fully hearing person is hearing. Just because you’re missing stereo doesn’t mean you’re missing half of it, that’s my experience.

In those debates and discussions, my point has always been it doesn’t matter if what you hear and what I hear is different. What matters is how you experience it, whether it gives you pleasure or not. And so I don’t think you can compare, I don’t think it matters to compare. I don’t think people who can hear in stereo can say they get much more pleasure and satisfaction from it. I’m sure that they hear something different, but their different isn’t better.

And what about when you played instruments as a kid? Could you tell or could anyone else tell that you were partially deaf?

I think I was a pretty good pianist, quite a sensitive player. And nobody ever would have known I was deaf in one ear. In the same way as with Holly, the little girl in the film, she’s been to competitions where she has won prizes, and then the judges found out afterwards that she’s deaf.

I always wonder if I was good at the piano because I’m partially deaf.

I always wonder if I was good because I’m partially deaf. As a kid, I was always told to sit at the front of the class, and watch the teacher. I lip read all the time, pretty much everybody and in pretty much every environment. That’s made me very attentive to pronunciations, to sounds, to the intricacies of how things are said, and I’m quite good at learning languages.

And I think it applies to the piano as well, maybe because you’re so focused on the intricacies of sounds, you become better at interpreting them and producing them yourself. I’m not saying I was wonderfully talented, but I was a good pianist. I’d like to be again, but I don’t have a piano in my house at the moment so I can’t call myself a pianist right now.

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