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.
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.
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 with daughter Caroline
In 1979 Susan Stone discovered the possibilities of art in radio 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.