A Different Way of Listening

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


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On the Lost and Sound website, you introduce the concept of a Panic Playlist, a list of songs you would listen to if you only had a few minutes left before losing your hearing. When did you think of that idea?

Maybe four or five years ago. It must have been around the same time I was diagnosed with Ménière’s disease, because I really never worried about my hearing until then. I’ve always been partially deaf, but I’ve always been happy with it, almost proud of it. It’s a part of who I am. It makes some stuff difficult and it makes some stuff amazing.

I really never worried about it until a few years ago when doctors said that Ménière’s is probably what caused my original hearing loss when I was three, and that Ménière’s can migrate into your other ear. So that’s the point at which I thought, okay, not being able to hear at all one day is a possibility. And that’s when I started to research the film and that’s when I probably started making that Panic Playlist—that kind of, “Quick, I’m going to listen to this before I can’t listen to it anymore” list. I have it with me all the time on my iPod, but of course it’s completely arbitrary: who has warning of something like sudden hearing loss?

And actually, it’s a weird concept because even if your hearing changes, it doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy music. That’s the whole point of the film, in a sense. It just means that you have to find a different way.

After you got the initial idea, how did it develop into the full concept for the film it became?

I started off looking at the idea of Lost and Sound with a musician from a prominent band in the UK who’d found that he’d suddenly lost hearing in one ear. And we were going to make a short film about that, a really experimental short, about the nature of sound and loss. And he was going to do the score. But actually it turned out that he wasn’t really ready to admit that publicly. It would have been too much exposure.

A disability can be like a superpower, because it allows you access into a different way of doing things.

But by that point I had started to make a film about deafness and music, and I’d already pitched the idea to TV commissioners and documentary markets, and the more I talked about it, the more people were encouraging me, saying, “Oh, you’ve got to do this, this is so fascinating, you’ve got to make a film about this.” And so I did.

I approached a production company I wanted to work with because they’d made a film called Here’s Johnny about a famous graphic artist who found he had multiple sclerosis, and the film focused on how he continued to and struggled through making his art as his body changed and he became more ill. They felt the same way that I did, that a disability doesn’t have to be a disability; it can be like a superpower, because it allows you access into a different way of doing things. And as soon as I knew that that was their philosophy, I approached them to work together.

Did making this film help you realize anything about yourself and your relationship with music?

I suppose, more than anything, it made me really frustrated to not be playing more! A lot of my friends are musicians and I love being with them when they’re just playing around, where people have guitars and pianos, and they’re just messing about. I’ve always been around that, but making the film has definitely made me realize how much more I want to be involved in that.

Also, I suppose you realize: do it now, you don’t know what’s going to happen. And as I said, if my hearing changes then I’ll figure it out and I’ll be able to appreciate music in a different way. And I’m really pleased with that. But it doesn’t mean I should waste time not playing the piano right now.

To purchase a DVD of Lost and Sound or find out more, contact info@lostandsound.org.

Lindsey Dryden is a director, producer, writer, and all-round lover of stories from London, UK. Dryden makes films mostly about music, arts, and science, and is happiest when combining them all. She was nominated for Best New UK Filmmaker (London Open City Docs) and Best Female-Directed Film (Sheffield Doc/Fest) in 2012, for Lost and Sound.
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