PBS Premiere: July 9, 2002Check the broadcast schedule »

Production Journal

POV: What feelings were you trying convey? What inspired you most — the landscape, your grandfather, your family, corn — in writing the music?

The Animation

I wanted to experiment with many ways of representing the emotions of individuals and their stories through different cinematic techniques. Animation was a way to include a unique visual perspective on many levels. I tried out a variety of animated forms from cut out drawn characters, cut out magazine pictures, to the actual corn stop motion itself. What ended up integrating the best was the corn stop motion. These sequences were shot on a bolex on 2-3 frame intervals.

I felt that by creating a rougher movement the animation would integrate into the feeling of the film much better. The sequence of the corn stripping and turning upright on a stool was done simply by drilling a screw vertically through the seat and into the cob so it had an axis to rotate on.

In the brief history section much of the animation was done on a homemade animation stand. This consisted of a photo enlarger head and several plates of glass that the objects were moved across. The spinning seeds were shot on a spinning turntable underneath the camera. The close up time-lapse of the seed growing was done in a bathroom in the apartment where I lived. I placed the kernel between two pieces of Plexiglas and gave it a watering every day. The sequence took about a week and a half to germinate and start working its way out of the soil. A frame was shot every couple minutes of its growth.

The Music

The compositions were recorded over a period of years on the second floor of a Chicago flat. They were performed and recorded improvisationaly on a multi-track recorder at night in order to avoid the sounds of cooing pigeons outside the windows. The ensemble consisted of an old violin once played in the Lawrence Welk Orchestra and a viola. A little zither, squeezebox, and percussion are mixed in as well. Most of the music I made was done at an intimate distance from the microphone allowing the listener to hear the woody knocks, the sound of fingers lifting off the fingerboard, and the friction of the bow on the strings. It was important to convey a mix of feelings from one piece of music to the next and at the same time keep some consistency in the style. The most difficult and exciting aspect of working with sound and image together is in the process of customizing the feeling and texture of the music to the images. While improvising I often relied on my memory of the landscape of Iowa and the content and pacing of the shots I'd acquired, this helped me gain a sense of the correct mood and meter of the music I needed.