The protagonist of the CBC documentary, The Change in Farming, is an 89-year-old farmer, called Henry. We learn that his grandson, Adam, has been recording Henry’s reminiscences about farming as a way of preserving his family heritage. The program was produced in 1998 by Adam Goddard, a 25-year-old musician and composer, in collaboration with veteran CBC producer, Steve Wadhams.
Adam is more hunter-gather than farmer. He collects found sound, an artist alert to its musical possibilities. He is composing a work using Henry’s speech. We hear the elder’s reaction. And then, in an indispensable coda, the two of them decamp to the barn, back on Henry’s turf once again.
The show piece of The Change in Farming is, of course, the musical composition. It is no accident that we have to wait to the end to hear it. In fact, it is testament to the impeccable dramaturgy. It is a master class in the slow reveal. Like all great craft, the attention to detail is well judged and sublimely concealed. The Change in Farming excels in 'show, don’t tell' exposition.
As storytelling, it upends the conventions of pioneer reminiscences, recombining words and phrases into something with an altogether new meaning. It is anti-nostalgia. And it challenges us. Are Henry’s words the lyrics or musical notes? Is Adam hallowing the past or critiquing it?
The Change in Farming juxtaposes an old viewpoint and a youthful one, found sound and the music of an old man’s voice, musical abstraction and the concrete reality of cattle bellowing in the barn. This counterpoint creates a satisfying complexity. This work was ingenious in its storytelling nearly 20 years ago. After all these years the novelty has not worn off. This classic remains farm-fresh.