Here There is No Moon

Intro from Jay Allison: A college student leaps from a bridge, a young mother walks into a lake, a widow clings to a ledge. Impulse. Depression. Illness. Grief. Susan Stone's piece is a portrait of the suicidal mind from the perspective of those who have survived, and those who have helped in rescue and intervention.

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Listen to “Here There is No Moon”

About “Here There is No Moon”

As I watched the reported number of Golden Gate Bridge jumpers grow in the San Francisco newspapers over the years (a number which, by the way, was no longer reported as the total neared 1,000 for fear it would spur others to be the very one to reach that sad total), questions grew with each suicide story I read about: Was this crime, compulsion, or choice? Was suicide a courageous act, or cowardly exit? And maybe the most fundamental question: Why does one commit suicide while another one doesn’t?

This piece began not so much as investigation into why people attempt suicide, but as a portrait of what leads them to the act, and how they regain their footing — if they, in fact, can — on the other side.

I began by talking to my mother, who at the age of 83 revealed a 40 year-old secret about her many attempts at taking her own life while she was a young mother. Hard for me to get objectivity on that one, but a startling beginning to the gathering of dozens of stories from many sides of the suicide issue: healthcare workers, counselors, doctors, poets, philosophers, families, survivors. In fact, the tape-gathering took place over 10 years.

Jumper
Photo Credit: John Storey

A dark project, it was hard to put it all together at times — required breathing room and time out for brighter features and, well, living. So this piece began in fits and starts, but finally fell into place when I talked to a young man who had sat for hours on a high bridge in Cairo, contemplating the jump after losing his job. He said his world had gotten so dark that Here there was no moon. That stuck with me, the line. Somehow it got me back on track with the idea to interweave some of the more lyrical things people had had to say about suicide with the starker stories, in hopes of balancing the dark with the light, the hopelessness with hope. I chose a non-narrative approach in looking for a more seamless way of creating a portrait of the suicidal mind, using ambient shifts, or locational scene changes to advance the feature.

Clinical and spiritual observations, as well as interventions are included among the stories. The idea was not to be voyeuristic, but to try to present reflections and insight from the people inside the events themselves. I hope this work offers a window onto some of the reasons why people consider or attempt suicide, and what we might do to help with rescue and recovery of loved ones in difficulty.

Tech Info

The beauty of taking years in bringing a piece to life is becoming acquainted with almost a decade of tech changes in the audio industry. Not so fun the operating instructions required to keep up.

This work started out around 1996 with a hardy little Sony TC-D5M (still beloved) tape recorder, and a trusty, getting rusty EV 635a mic which I toted everywhere in pursuit of story and sound (ambulance ride-alongs, into the ER, bridges railings, skyscraper catwalks, seashore). Compared to the looming emergence of things digital, I felt I was making a black and white movie. The texture and granularity of analog sound-gathering felt more reel, do I mean real. Original edits were done with ye olde painstaking razor blade; the interwoven voices, (collaged for effect) were the result of long tape loops threaded through Ampex recording heads – a cat’s cradle in playback mode, providing lovely chance intersections of phrases. Time-consuming and quixotic, but a poetic capture of sound. The early mixes: on a Soundcraft 8-track.

Tape-gathering from a backpack gave way by the 21st century to the sweeter portability of the sweeter portability of the minidisc recorder and the dynamic duo of an AKG D230 mic and a Sennheiser 421. Everything then transferred to Protools for the edit and mix, with a final production mop-up this summer via Soundsoap Pro and Audiolab. Across the great divide.

Why the time lag in creating “Moon”: I was following the lives of several people over a number of years to see how they were faring after prior suicide attempts. I am happy to say most of them are doing very well, and glad to be here, still.

Susan Stone

About
Susan Stone

Susan Stone discovered the possibilities of art in radio in 1979 while working the night shift at WBAI-FM in New York City. Having the recording studios virtually to herself in the pre-dawn hours resulted in some rather unconventional recording activity. The result was Radio Schizophonia, launched with co-producer and fellow audio cutup Gregory Whitehead: a late night NYC call-in show intercut with archival Dada poetry from the Cabaret Voltaire and performances of local sound poets. This delightful monkey business led Stone to more audioplay in tape looping, audio collage, and soundscape compositions for Westdeutscher Rundfunk (Germany) and the New Music America audio arts festivals. In the early 1980s, she joined performance artist Suzanne Lacy as sound designer for a nationwide series of Lacy's living tableaux of multigenerational performances honoring older women through their life stories. As Director of Arts and Humanities programming at Pacifica Radio KPFA-FM. 1988-2005, she created Act One Radio Theater as a showcase of hörspiel and ambient art, as well as The Radio Chronicles and Audio Salon workshop series, featuring the broadcast and creative exchange of audio artists working in all aspects of sound. Stone's audio features are often a mix of fact, fiction and fate, inspired by cataclysmic events in nature and a North Carolina childhood. Rip, Rift and Panic, a portrait of life and death along the seismically-active Pacific Rim, received the Director's Choice Award at the 2001 Third Coast International Audio Festival. Her original mixed-media texts and scores for theater, dance, and independent film have also received awards in story and sound design from the San Francisco Film Festival, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, and American Women in Radio and Television. Now, after all that time at feisty, fractious Pacifica Radio, she's begun a new career as city mediator for victim-offender and restorative justice programs in San Francisco, where she lives with hubby and kids. Her latest work is inspired by the lethal beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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  • Jay Allison

    11.15.05

    Reply
    Here There Is No Moon

    Producer Susan Stone has been working on this for a long time, inspired, as she says, by the Lethal Beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge.

    "I began by talking to my mother, who at the age of 83 revealed a 40 year-old secret about her many attempts at taking her own life while she was a young mother. Hard for me to get objectivity on that one, but a startling beginning to the gathering of dozens of stories from many sides of the suicide issue: healthcare workers, counselors, doctors, poets, philosophers, families, survivors. In fact, the tape-gathering took place over 10 years."

    It’s a complicated weave, challenging to listen to, full of stories and hints of much larger stories, all spinning around a single moment, a choice.

  • Jake Warga

    11.17.05

    Reply
    Good job

    Susan
    Thanks for this story. It’s well layered and textured with great voices and sounds, can hear and appreciate the hard work you put into it. Would like to hear your story, your mom’s, somehow in it, but that’s a whole other story I guess. Loved(?) the suicide note-reading bits, actors? Hard to hear from people after they’ve killed themselves, we tend to focus on the periphery, the support personnel, wanting the whole time really to get into the heads of the people who actually did what everyone else is talking about. The notes seemed to be the closest to the true subjects. Who’s the British woman? Great variety of voices, shows a lot of collection time and effort, must have been hard to get the officials to talk.

    I interviewed JKHines (same jump survivor) as well recently for a story about the Golden Gate Bridge and a friend who jumped off it a year ago–airing next week on AllThingsConsidered (11/25). Tragically, it’s part 2 to my piece that Transom premiered here: "When Brian Took His Life." It was his brother, Phil.

    I wish I had 20+ min (I get 8min), thanks for sharing your edit, satisfied the true story-teller in me.

  • Muriel Murch

    11.17.05

    Reply
    Congratulations

    Dear Susan,
    Congratulations to you for getting "There is no Moon," up onto prx. You have woven the threads of these stories together like a silken scarf. This is a piece to which we can listen and ponder the lives you have brought us and the deaths we know, long after the tape is over. Thank you.
    Muriel Murch

  • sstone

    11.18.05

    Reply

    Jake, thank you. Kevin Hines is working hard, dedicating his life, this side of the jump, to getting bridge barriers put up on the Golden Gate. I think of him alot, worry like a mom, I guess. Look forward to your piece with him next week. The suicide notes you asked about came to me by way of an officer in the LAPD; he collected them into a rather grisly testimonial of the people he tried to save — and some he did. They were read by people approximately the ages/genders of the writers. You bet, hard to get some of these interviewees on tape. Some prefer anonmymity; others want to get the word out and are true prevention crusaders.

  • helen woodward

    11.28.05

    Reply
    Thanks for a challenging show.

    It is rare to find a collage piece that can engage the listener for such a long time; this piece is clearly the exception. Can you expand a little on the sound gathering process. With the subject matter being what it is, it must have been hard to find subjects who have a) survived (as you probably wouldn’t refer in passing to last week’s failed suicide attempt) and b) are willing to talk about it, at least close to the event itself. So how did you find your subjects, how did you draw them out to talk so frankly about such a truly desperate time in their lives? The stories must have been very hard for you to listen to without becoming involved.

    and on another note, you have 2 versions of this piece on prx, an American one which is shorter than the european version. What is the difference, and why did you make 2 versions.

    thanks again
    Helen Woodward

  • sstone

    11.29.05

    Reply

    Helen,

    Yes, it took time to get some to open up and talk about their attempts. Comfort, trust, concerns over how they’d turn out in the piece.

    In most cases, the tapings took place over several months– details emerging as an interviewee got distance from the event. I’d offer my mom’s own tale to break the ice in case the subject was concerned about getting trapped in a voyeuristic or clinical interview. Following several subjects allowed me to hear where the s/he was at weeks, months, maybe a year or more later. It was very hard to live inside these tapes.

    When the excellent author Iris Chang ("Rape of Nanking") killed herself earlier this spring, I was deeply shaken. She was consumed by her work on an unfinished book about the death march of Bataan, and it was just too much for her. The reflections written about her by Heidi Benson of the SF Chronicle touched one of people I was interviewing at the time, and is lovely and sad: "Every suicide is the tragic terminus of a tangle of roads, a route unique as a thumbprint."

  • Ian Gray

    11.30.05

    Reply
    Deep Matter

    What a tremendous half-hour of listening. I think you can hear some of these people actually grow strong as they tell their stories. It’s like they double in stature. Partly it’s the material but also your skill at drawing that out. Especially the piece where the man, (I think its Kevin Hines) is thinking of jumping and a woman asks him to take her picture, oblivious to the scene going on. That sent chills up and down my spine.

    Thanks for Helen’s question and your response in the previous post. I was also curious how you earned the confidence of the people in your story, how long it took to gather, did people come to you etc. You must have gotten many different responses from people you approached. Were there interviews with people that you didn’t include? Did you find that you were the first person in many cases to sit down and hear the "whole story," or had these stories been shared before?

    Also, I was suprised to read on a previous post that the "readings" were actual suicide letters. I assumed they were your own writings. They hit me a lot more the second listen through knowing their origins…Could you elaborate on the collage choices a little. Why you embedded these bits as much as you did at risk of losing a sometimes careless listener like myself.

    Thanks,
    Ian Gray

  • sstone

    12.01.05

    Reply
    cutting room floor

    There were a number of folks whose stories didn’t make it in..some had second thoughts after taping (privacy, fear) . Two spoke in native languages and the meaning got lost in translation. In most cases the subjects had spoken to counselors, therapists, families at length about their suicide attempts. They were a bit more at ease in sharing details. But the health workers, firemen, and hotline operator were especially hungry to unload, and did – some for hours. Ended up one whole day in a firetruck getting one story.

    A big concern in the mix –exactly what you state: losing a listener somewhere in the story-weave. The collaged voices are, in some places, an attempt to convey the inner monologue struggle, the mental loop so many were caught up in: never-ending stories of despair. But sometimes collaged to build a scene through sensation as much as information.

    But I found the most powerful moment –suspense, I guess, in the silence of one extended pause. When the hotline operator couldn’t get the caller to speak, it suggested to me a terrible private drama playing out on the other end of the phone, yet one hears nothing.

    Thanks so much for your thoughts, Ian.

  • Viki Merrick

    12.02.05

    Reply
    Versions

    This is compelling content and skillfully woven. I’d be curious to hear you talk about the two different versions. I think I first heard the European version which used a sort of refrain that you’d bring in from time to time. Why the difference? You seemed a lot more experimental in the European version – more sound/music and a heavier production hand. I may be mistaken and you might have cut that refrain from the two current versions. Regardless, I would be glad to hear you address the two version question.
    And I agree with you about the silence on the phone with the hotline. It was unbearable, I felt like screaming DON"T HANG UP SO FAST !!!!! (was that real time btw?)

  • sstone

    12.02.05

    Reply
    Versions (plan A, plan B)

    There is literally more play in European radioplay: one can use more crayons in the box; loosen the belt on length, format. (The real heyday of non-narrative features, soundscape, text-sound (horspiel) was in the 1980s, 90s.)

    French and German radio have been a supportive anchor for audio miscreants not fitting the tightly formatted U.S. radio niche.

    Which is why a window like this is precious thing.

    So,in the overseas version, at risk of losing a story arc, more moments are nestled within one another to compare, contrast people’s experiences of the same event: taking one’s life and not completing the act. Juxtaposing one’s reflection or introspection of what might have happened, with another’s story of intervention or prevention. Call and response.

    In "The Conversations" by Michael Ondaatje, Walter Murch is talking with other film directors about film sound and edition. There’s a lovely reference to Japanese paintings of the umeo tradition ( a dash of sky — a stroke for ground, and the beholder fills in the rest).

    If the listener can collaborate with a story to fill in color and image, then the creativity, and the power of the tale is now in the ear of the beholder.

    I believe in mining the story, but finding ways the voice of the storyteller can be used as ambient material, taking on the dimension of scene and soundscape.

  • Emily Sapienza

    12.06.05

    Reply

    Susan,

    This piece is so solid and well crafted. Good job!

    I particularly like the beginning, how you bring us into the topic of suicide in a serious but not heavy handed way, how you set up the non-narrated collage, and introduce us to a variety of voices and perspectives, without confusing us.

    I also really I really appreciated that while the piece ends with some more hopeful tape, it isn’t doesn’t undercut the seriousness of the rest of the piece. And it feels like closure, while still referencing the fact that suicide is something that will continue to happen.

    It seems like you used more voices in the beginning section and end section, and then throughout the rest of the piece you used fewer voices per section that spoke more specifically. Was that a conscious choice? I think it gives the piece both an intimate and a communal feeling. And the non-narrated format adds to this by not giving undue authority to the professionals who deal with suicide.

    Also I am impressed by the flow and the movement of the piece. You did a great job of moving us through the piece, keeping it interesting and breaking it up. I am interested in how you conceived of those chapters.

    Was there any material that you wanted to use, but felt you had to cut for time? If so, what was it and how did you make those editorial decisions? Was it ever a lot longer than 26 minutes?

    I was confused about the readings that occurred at approximately 5 minutes, 30 seconds; 11 minutes, 16 minutes and 19:30 and the very end of the piece. I know that you wrote in your introduction that “Here there is no moon” is something that someone said to you about his depression. Did he write all those readings? I liked the use of these readings to break up the mood and the scenes, though in them I missed the down to earth tone that the rest of the piece had. And I was curious about the precise origins of the readings while listening.

    You show a great sensitivity to the subject overall and have crafted a beautiful piece. Thank you.

  • sstone

    12.06.05

    Reply

    I tried to bookend Moon with information about prevention or intervention, leaving the middle bits to the ebb and flow of stories. It ends as you noted, leaving the question about what might happen on any given day to someone living on the edge, or pushed to it.

    Those intermittent readings, read by actor Earll Kingston (husband of Maxine Hong Kingston) were written by me, drawn from journal entries and suicide notes shared by some of the subjects or their families.

  • Miguel Macias

    12.07.05

    Reply
    views

    Hi again Susan!

    I was very happy to see that your piece went up on transom. This is the kind of thing I am most interested in finding here.
    I have some comments/questions about the content of the piece.

    For a long time I have wondered why there are not many pieces out there about suicide. And I have to say that I don’t have a good answer. I do know that most of the material is focused on preventing this phenomenon and not so much in describing it or getting into the feelings involved. If I were to throw theories around I would say that it seems like some sort of a taboo. And talking about, or referring to it in a beautiful manner? Are you kidding? That is even more taboo! It might have something to do with the lack of happiness that a piece on this topic will necessarily convey. People like to be happy… Not many want to listen about misery. From a different perspective, this feeling uncomfortable on the side of the audience seems to appear when other realities that seem incomprehensible to the standard human being are treated. It’s uncomfortable to talk about something so different. For a “normal” person, the question of how could anyone possibly consider to take their life away, is pretty impossible to respond to. And neither the normal mind wants to listen about it or think about it. Could this have anything to do with religion? could this have anything to do with the fact that suicide has been a morally unacceptable option in many societies?

    So my question would be, did you face any of these obstacles? Did you encounter this kind of reactions in other producers or stations?

    The form of this piece does the opposite to being a clinical piece. It doesn’t seem to focus on the motivations for suicide. It is not clear why anyone does it. And I like that. Because there is certainly not only one reason why this is done. I am not denying the fact that clinical studies on the subject are indeed extremely helpful in preventing suicide. But, when trying to approach the topic on a radio piece, I suspect that a more unstructured and emotional approach like the one you take in this piece might be also very helpful. I personally, don not want to listen to a piece that portraits suicidal people as some sort of case of study, different from us (the normal people) and who need our help. I am not interested in feeling sorry for them or simplifying or categorizing their motivations. I am more interested in listening with true interest, concern and curiosity, leaving behind any assumptions or judgments that as a society we make on people who do incomprehensible things.

    What are you thoughts on this?
    Thanks!!

  • Jay Allison

    12.07.05

    Reply
    personal

    Susan, your reasons for taking on this subject are so personal; even some of the voices (your mother, your own writing) are drawn from your life. Yet, you removed yourself, keeping that information out of the piece. Forgive me if you’ve addressed this above (I can’t remember and don’t have to time to re-read) but did you consider doing this from a different angle, a first-person approach? Do you ever do work like that, or are you more comfortable in collage, non-narrative forms?

  • caroline wilder

    1.04.06

    Reply
    high school students listening

    Hi, I am a senior in northern California in high school. I played this piece for my friends, and it can save a life. Thanks for this show. People don’t talk about why they want to end their lives, but these stories help explain why maybe some want to die but can change their minds with luck or with help.

    Lina, in Calistoga

  • John Kevin Hines

    2.09.06

    Reply
    Jake how are yah?

    Dear Jake it’s John Kevin Hines just writing to say hello. Thank you for all who wrote in and I promise to keep up the good work. I am working closely with Several suicide prevention groups and will have a website up soon dedicated to the issue. feel free to call me jake you have my number and thank you. by the way I never saw the all things considered episode send it to me please.

  • Kate Hough

    3.05.06

    Reply

    Thank you for this astoundingly beautiful piece.

    I really loved your use of music and the way it combined with overlapping voices in what felt like waves or night sky. I also enjoyed and appreciated the broad and rich range of the voices of your sources that contributed to the piece overall.

  • sstone

    3.06.06

    Reply

    There’s a pulse to waves which can infect a mix when they end up in much site sound gathering.

    Keeping the ocean at bay (ha!) so its sonorities weren’t too, too, meant playing around with some other thing to hopefully evoke ebb/flow rhythms of mind and place.

    Thank you.

  • kevin hines

    7.15.06

    Reply
    Susan You just made my day!

    Dear Susan,

    Like the rest of these wonderful people, I too was touched and moved by your wonderful piece. I think woven together like silk is a great way of thinking about the editing.

    It definitely flows so smoothly.

    Hey it’s me John Kevin Hines. What you said "I think of him alot, worry like a mom." moved me. You have no idea how much that means to me, so much in fact I cannot express it here in only a few words.

    Thank You so much. Just know I am doing just fine, and I will keep it up I promise.

    Sincerely,

    Your friend Kevin.

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