In December of 2014 the Irish traditional fiddle and guitar duo Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, joined Sarod player Matthew Noone on a tour of India, to play several shows as well as meet and collaborate with a host of famous Indian traditional musicians. Myles O’Reilly joined the to tour to film and edit this short film encapsulating the spirit of the journey.
Our wedding in Glebe Gardens, West Cork.
I can not post this film without writing about the epic circumstances surrounding it’s creation. ‘The Sound of a Country’ was the hardest music documentary I ever had to make. Not only did it financially brake me, I can also say, it’s the film that nearly killed me, because it did quite literally, nearly kill me.
I married my darling wife Aideen on the 11th of September 2014. On the day of our wedding I was suffering from a very common sore throat, which I was treating with a course of antibiotics. Undeterred by my sickness we decided to leave Ireland just days after our wedding, to go on the honeymoon adventure of a lifetime traveling around Asia. We gave ourselves a very generous two months. We would fly to the other side of the globe to the tropical island of Bali in Indonesia, then take a boat to the island of Flores, fly to Burma, get a train to Laos and for our last few weeks, find tropical heaven in the south of Thailand. As were were traveling, my sore throat re-occurred twice, which I treated with more antibiotics, prescribed on both occasions by doctors with no English. “My throat” I would say, pointing in to my mouth, “ouch, sore” as I clasped my neck.
The news of the India tour happened somewhere in the middle of our trip. I received a mail from Matthew Noone inviting me to join himself, Martin and Dennis in India for two weeks, starting on the 10th of December. Aideen and I were due to return to Ireland on the third of December, so it was my decision to extend our honeymoon adventure so that both of us could join the India tour. How could I possibly leave my new wife in Ireland after such an amazing holiday together? So she was coming with me. It meant missing flights home and having to purchase completely new flights. From a hotel Lobby in Bangkok we clicked a few buttons online and watched as every last cent that we had saved for our holiday, disappeared. I then had to borrow a large sum of money from a friend. Nothing was going to stop us. It was the job of a lifetime and an opportunity to have one last honeymoon adventure. Unfortunately our last week in Thailand left me a with a gift of even more antibiotics, this time prescribed for my thumb, which I accidentally almost chopped off with a car door…
Aideen with School Kids, high in the mountains of Flores
Very happy backpacking honeymooners
..As soon as we arrived on Indian soil, I ran around filming absolutely everything in sight but sadly, only one day in to the tour while we were in New Delhi, the stabilizer in my very expensive 200mm lens stopped working. This was disastrous. Having an image stabilizer on a zoom lens means I don’t need a tripod to get shots of people from a distance, they don’t see me and I don’t have to spend tedious time adjusting a tripod to get a steady shot. It’s impossible to get quick spontaneous compositions without a functioning optical stabilizer. A day later my laptop died. Stone dead. We spent mostly all our budget to have both the laptop and lens repaired in New Delhi days before leaving for Chennai, where the tour would truly begin. Then more mishap! During this time, my broken thumb started to smell, badly. It had become infected. I then had to find a doctor, again, and get that repaired too. Yet more antibiotics were prescribed. When we arrived in Chennai, the lens I just spent a small fortune repairing, broke again, only ten minutes out of the camera bag. Thankfully our very kind Indian hosts found me a similar lens on loan, and sourced a local Canon repair center. What more could go wrong?
Things went fairly smoothly for a time. We spent a glorious week in Chennai. The musicians gave workshops, played gigs, rehearsed, met with other musicians and also attended a few gigs and ceremonies. I was there for every step of the way and when I wasn’t filming the musicians interactions with India, I was walking the streets, exploring, filming people, hopping in and out of rickshaws and going wherever the mood would take me. Thankfully my wife Aideen had made a pal in Martins Hayes wife Lena and they made their own schedule, getting to explore all the cultural depths India had to offer. I was so busy, that we hardly saw each other.
Unfortunately calamity was only around the corner. There was trouble with my thumb. It wasn’t getting any better. I went to a clinic and another doctor informed me that my thumbnail needed to be removed. I was shown a bed and asked to lye down. “I am injecting you with an anesthetic in the region of your thumbnail, so you won’t feel anything”, said the doctor. The needle pricked. He started pinching the skin around my nail, my thumb obscured from sight with a white sheet. “Can you feel that?” he asked, “yes” I answered. He kept pinching, “can you feel that now”, “yes”. The sensation was still very much alive. “We just have to wait a few minutes until the anesthetic takes affect”. Looking at his watch, he sighed, “do you feel me pinching you now?” he asked again. Before I could even answer him, a pain shot up my arm as he yanked the nail away from my body in one foul tear. For two to three seconds the pain was horrendous. So much for waiting a few minutes! Shortly after, thankfully, the anesthetic did kick in to bring some temporary relief. Again, more antibiotics were prescribed. It seemed I had spent our entire holiday consuming numerous types of antibiotics, more than I can count on one hand. My toilet bag was a mix of washing products and medicines. Pink, yellow, and blue pills, most with no instruction. Forgetting which were which, I found myself browsing pills on Google Image one night just to get some idea of what I was carrying.
Thumb surgery over. Looking quite happy considering..
Aideen with a child at Mahabalipuram beach
The India tour finished without any further disaster and we flew home from Mumbai only days before Christmas. Aideen is from Cork, born and raised, and no sooner did we arrive in Dublin than we were on a train to Cork to spend Christmas with her parents. On boxing day the real life-threatening nightmare began. The sore throat I had been fending off with antibiotics since our wedding, three months previous, returned with vengeance. The natural course of action was to go and see a doctor, which led to the next predictable course of action, surprise surprise, a prescription for more antibiotics. Two days later I was incapable of swallowing, the drugs weren’t working. I had never felt such pain in my throat. Aideen accompanied me to Accident and Emergency in Cork’s Mercy Hospital. There we waited six hours only to have a doctor tell me that I had a sore throat. I knew it was much more than just a sore throat. Another day and night passed. I remember waking up in Aideens family home to see my face and neck noticeably swollen. My breathing and airwaves had become restricted, my vision was blurry and my temperature was sky high. We rushed back to our GP in a panic. He took one look at me and I was referred to Cork’s Ear, Nose and Throat hospital, where I was immediately diagnosed with a deep throat infection called a ‘Quinsy’. I was admitted to hospital, and for the umpteenth time fed antibiotics, this time through an IV drip. Unfortunately over two days the swelling became much worse..
Limbo in Cork University Hospital
On New Years Night, doctors became extremely worried and I had to go to surgery to stop the swelling in my neck from suffocating me. The antibiotics were not working. No antibiotic they tried was working. The doctors were super careful to not let the swelling get any worse. I was put in to an induced coma and my breathing was controlled from a life support respirator, while a team of medics tried their best analyze the bacteria they had removed from my throat abscess, to find an antibiotic that would work. Unfortunately things became worse again. No sooner was I woken from my coma and able to drink a glass of water that two more abscess formed on my face and neck. The dangerous bacterial fluid was continuing to appear and grow at an alarming rate, now only a centimeter from my brain. We were informed of many foreseeable and fatal complications. As my trolly was wheeled to theater for the second time, with Aideen and her father by my side, I was saying goodbye.
I woke up the instant I was put asleep, the instance which I thought was my very last, was continued. The second operation had been successful. I could feel the wheels of my theatre bed moving under me and the first faces I saw were that of my darling wife and her dad, teary as I had left them but teary with joy. I couldn’t speak because I had been given a Tracheotomy, and the drugs I was given were simply bonkers. I spent two weeks in Intensive Care and another two weeks in a hospital ward recovering from the mighty beating my face and throat had been given in order to keep me in alive. They scanned me a million times and thankfully found nothing that would indicate any ongoing illness. I was going to get through it and there was an end in sight. The killer bug they later identified as a very common germ, the one that had initially infected my throat months previously, just before our wedding. By taking so many different antibiotics while away and haphazardly completing them, I had very severely damaged my immunity and instead of killing the bug it grew stronger and eventually had become resistant to everything doctors threw at it.
Some of the angels that helped me back on my feet.
Now, a month after being discharged from hospital, I am still under self imposed house arrest, as my immunity is in my boots. Editing this film has been my first step towards normality. I started a week ago and finished this evening. The opening song with the Indian girls attending singing lessons in Brhaddhvani music school was as much as I edited before the nightmare began, from a laptop in my hospital bed. The beautiful scales they sing in the clip repeated in my head for the whole time that I spent in a coma. I could hear their voices singing to me from the dark and surreal space my mind occupied during that time.
For many hours I hallucinated that I was hundred’s of feet in the air, looking down at thousands upon thousands of Indian people, who were all looking up at me. They were huddled together, pressing up against each other. The glassy whites of their eyes in contrast with their dark skin, shone like stars, thousands of blinking pin pricks of light starring up at me, not one taking their eyes off me. Pockets of them would loose balance and together stumble, pushing each other to stay on their feet, like an audience in a mosh pit. I had many vague hallucinations while in a coma but that image was full HD.. Imax.. and reoccurred often. I guess it was a vision made manifest by all the eyes I had filmed during my stay in India, that I deeply connected with through my lens.
Sitting at my desk for the first time this year and playing the opening sequence to this film, I was holding back tears. It was so moving to hear the girls voices again, from the safety of my beautiful home. Needless to say, editing the rest of this piece has brought me such great joy. Editing footage to music is certainly one of my greatest pleasures. I hope that viewers get even a tenth of my joy in watching the finished result.
I saw more doctors in the four months I spent away from home than most people will ever see in their lifetime. The same goes for the amount of antibiotics I had to ingest. Never did I think that the most wonderful adventure imaginable would end in the one of the worst circumstances imaginable. In everything that happened there are many lessons to be learned. Always stitch the small hole in your jumper before it eventually unravels completely, kind of lessons! I’ll be thinking about what happened to me for a long time. Past the panic and fear of what seems like a horrendous experience, lies a significant silver lining. I know I’m stronger for it. I’m very happy to be well. I’m born again.
My editing suite , my creative sanctuary.