No./4 What it feels like to go deaf

How im­mer­sive new drama Sound Of Metal de­picted a drummer’s de­scent into deaf­ness

Empire (Australasia) - - PREVIEW - ELLA KEMP

SOUND OF METAL de­picts the un­rav­el­ling of one man, as Ruben (played by Riz Ahmed), a heavy-metal drummer and for­mer ad­dict, slowly loses his hear­ing. It’s a process that’s rarely shown on screen. But for de­but di­rec­tor Dar­ius Marder (a co-writer on The Place Be­yond The Pines), it was im­por­tant for the au­di­ence to feel that down­ward slide first-hand.

“We cut in and out of om­ni­science to a first-per­son ex­pe­ri­ence — a point of hear­ing, rather than a point of view,” Marder ex­plains. The film forces the viewer to hear what Ruben does, muf­fling noise as soon as the first rup­ture hits; in­ge­nious use of sound de­sign was a key sto­ry­telling tool. “We mic’d the in­side of skulls un­der­wa­ter to cap­ture how Ruben would hear him­self swal­low­ing or blink­ing.”

The in­ge­nu­ity went be­yond sound de­sign, though. To play Ruben, Ahmed im­mersed him­self in a re­al­is­ti­cally deaf world; rather than a to­tal quiet, Marder ex­plains, deaf­ness man­i­fests in low fre­quen­cies. “He wore two cus­tom-made ear­pieces which emit­ted a white noise, a pierc­ing whine he had to live with. Rather than just putting cot­ton in his ears, he ac­tu­ally couldn’t hear his own voice.”

The role had other de­mands. Ahmed also learned the drums from scratch, and trans­formed him­self phys­i­cally to match. “Drum­ming is a won­der­ful thing be­cause there’s no way to cheat it,” Marder says. “And [Riz] was get­ting into a drummer’s body shape — re­ally cut, re­ally lanky.” Plus, there was the small mat­ter of com­mu­ni­cat­ing via Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage — which re­quires im­mense pa­tience and emo­tion. “50 per cent of sign is in your eyes and face,” ex­plains Marder, “which is why hear­ing peo­ple have such a hard time do­ing it. When Riz re­alised he wasn’t used to emot­ing with his face, he started cry­ing. He re­alised it was such an emo­tional break­through.”

For all the ob­sta­cles of a new dis­abil­ity, the big­gest chal­lenge for Ruben is mak­ing peace with him­self — what Marder calls “a si­lence of the soul”. It’s no easy feat. “If any­body thinks Ruben is good to go, he’s not,” Marder says. “But he’s just reached some­thing pro­found. It’s the first time where he ac­tu­ally ac­cepts some­thing. Maybe that’s my Bud­dhist up­bring­ing — the only way to­ward heal­ing is ac­cep­tance.” A spe­cific dis­abil­ity, then, but a univer­sal story.

SOUND OF METAL IS DUE OUT AT A LATER DATE

Clock­wise from main: Riz Ahmed learnt to drum for the film; Oh, and sign lan­guage as well; Drum roll, please.

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