Friday, October 2, 2009

An Uncommon Mirage: The Psychiatric Bedevilment of Susan Q

Sixteen months ago, I received a strange request from a Professor Hans Urfel, former head of the psychology department at the University of Uppsala in Sweden and current operating Director of an elite institution for studying the mentally ill. Due to the nature of doctor-patient confidentiality, I was unable to publish any part of my involvement in the study until just recently hearing of the untimely death of the patient. As for the patient’s name, I was never truly informed and all documents I received in regards to this matter stated the name as “Susan Q”. This is, of course, a false name given to me since my role in this endeavor was that of a technical contractor and academic consultant.

See below a copy of the original letter sent to me by Dr. Urfel.


I replied to Dr. Urfel quite promptly, because he was quite right. I was in no position to refuse work. While the retainer was adequate, I felt I would need to push for a bit more money. He had approached me with an assumption of my cooperation. And while that assumption was correct, I disliked its implication of dominance.
My reply to Hans Urfel:

Dr. Urfel ended up accepting my wage increase request and I set to work making the audio and video for the hallucination of Susan Q. The images in her vision were this: images of a strange river where boys washed clothes, wordless images of men yelling silently, threatening images of bears and flames with some reference to the “Bear” sub-culture of homosexual men. Although these references were brief and subtle, according to Susan they were represented as textual images, as if reading from a book. Other parts of the sequence include stage circus acts featuring “Victor the Bear” and his trainers in one section, and an elephant routine involving a woman held in the mouth of the great beast while it stood on a stool.

It was these two animal performances that I recognized while reading the accounts recorded by the psychiatric staff at the institution. They were from the Ed Sullivan show and were in vivid Technicolor. The Ed Sullivan Show ran from 1948 to 1965 in black and white. After making the mandatory switch to color in 1965, the show only lasted six more years and was canceled after the 70-71 season. This rapid decline had much to do with the changing times. But for me, it was a deeper shift in the way we access memory. The defined and rigid entertainment of black and white depended upon the writing talent bred from the radio age, but color needed no ally. Color TV exploded into our communal consciousness and slashed wide, permanent marks in our memory. Black and white images became synonymous with nostalgia. But I digress from the story of Susan Q.

Susan Q’s hallucination had an intricate audio soundscape consisting of some hip-hop elements most likely lifted from that night at the pub. It also features some dissonant melodies that she was able to hum under hypnosis, which I have represented with electric guitar. Several bits of poetry also infiltrate the scene. The transcriptions for these pieces can be found following the video.

Unfortunately for all involved, my contribution did little to help the severely removed Susan Q.

Dr. Urfel’s attempt at confronting her with her hallucination had a distinctly opposite effect. If she were not allowed to spend an hour a day watching the remake of her hallucination, Susan Q refused to eat and would steer herself into the corners of rooms, spending all day with her face to the wall. Her condition worsened to the point of hospitalization whereupon she withered and passed, ultimately dying from complications of pneumonia.

Since her death releases me from my restrictions in publishing anything about my involvement in this matter, I now present to you the very short film I created for Dr. Hans Urfel. Interpretations may vary.

The Voices that Susan heard:

Overheard voice: “Last night, I had the strangest dream. It wasn’t until it was over that I realized my eyes were open the whole time.”

Overheard poem:
“I wonder could I bother you for a spot of marmalade
just shove it in me brain holes
‘til me vision starts to fade”

The rhymes in the dance beat sequence:
“Brothers spit with liquid fist
Crush memories with time
Imitate the hypnotist
And rule your tiny mind

Blister quick, my wicked tick
I push my ‘barrow slow
I’ve been toiling with the wind
Now it follows me where I go

I can cut it up in pills
I can bend it to my wills
I can make it simplified
Universally bona fide
Won’t you look into the eye?
My sign is rising..."

Original musical composition and vocal samples are created by me. Audio samples freely contributed from these musicians: Zajo, Simon_Lacelle, dobroide, LS, nicStage, FreqMan, mrbubble110, sleep, walkerbelm, fathead74, alexbird, Andrew_Duke, sagetyrtle, BristolStories, djgriffin, Jace, propthis, and Matanael.

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