The Tomato & the Big Apple
Notes from Alwine van Heemstra
People seem to harden, especially in densely populated areas like New York City. The smallest issues engage people into scolding or fighting. In addition New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the world. To survive you have to work harder than anybody else. You get fired instantly. And yet the city is as a magnet to people with big dreams. I made audio snapshots of “real” New Yorkers. They were born and raised in the city or moved there long ago, in search for success: the famous American Dream. The inhabitants have mostly a hate love affair with the city. They have to strain every nerve to exist; each in their own way, each for themselves. But they are all interconnected and part of a bigger whole: they depend on each other to survive.
The city itself is like a body with the urge to survive. Eight million people – like bacteria in an intestinal canal – digest everything that enters, take the important matter out and dispose of the waste. Appropriate for the comparison between city and body is that New York collects the excrements of her inhabitants through the wastewater system and converts it into manure. Amongst other things the city manure is sold to farmers to grow their crops. Especially tomatoes grow well on this fertilizer and people in de city eat tomatoes. A cycle.
For the documentary I selected a tomato in Florida that was destined for New York. The tomato took me from one situation to the other until it ended up on my plate. But it didn’t end there. We had a last encounter in the wastewater plant and from then on my view on life would never be the same.
To place the snapshots in a larger perspective I altered the scenes with short soundscapes revealing hard facts. The soundscapes were edited by a composer with the citysounds that I recorded and with the sounds from a trombonist whom she directed for this piece. It is the only instrument in de documentary except for music on the radio that was on in the truck.
I scripted the whole piece before I went into the editing. My story is narrated by an actress that I recorded in a studio. We took the soundscapes and cut them to the right size to get them in the rhythm of the scenes.
I recorded the interviews and the citysounds with a Tascam DAT recorder and a Sennheiser ME 64. Often the audio is rough. New York City is full of low hum tones like air conditioners, traffic, subways. Especially recording in the truck, it was a challenge. In the editing room my editor and I tried to use it to our advantage. We didn’t try to cover it up — we used it to stress the roughness of the city.
Alwine van Heemstra
About Alwine van Heemstra
Alwine van Heemstra lives and works in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She lived in New York City from 1999 until 2001 and visits the city since then on a regular basis. She works as a freelancer in various media and loves radio for its power to create images in peoples minds. She is also the producer of Boundless Sound, the radio-documentary festival in the Netherlands.
Soundscape Composer: Calliope Tsoupaki
Trombonist: Wolter Wierbos
Narrator: Suze Barrett
Editing: Willem Davids
Broadcast Producer:Vincent van Merwijk (RVU Broadcasters The Netherlands)
This program was realized with the support of the Dutch Cultural Broadcast Productions Stimulation Fund and the Dutch version was broadcasted by the RVU/Educatieve Omroep.