New York Mills: Corn Stalk Chopper

Corn stalk chopper
The corn stalk chopper with metal objects welded to it.
MPR photo/Marc Sanchez

John Morton is a composer from New York City, but for two months in 2004 he was a composer in New York Mills, Minn. Morton was an artist in residence in the west central Minnesota town where he began building his first public sound installation. His creation: "Corn Stalk Chopper," a sound sculpture that sits in the New York Mills sculpture garden, just off Hwy 10.

The sculpture is a type of music box made from a modified corn stock chopper. These machines are normally used to grind up corn stalks after harvest to help them decompose back into the earth.

Part of Morton's time in Minnesota was spent tracking down this piece of old farm equipment. He met a farmer north of New York Mills who said he had one, but it was sitting in a pond rusting away. The farmer cleaned it up and drove it back to New York Mills, where Morton had set up shop at the local high school.

Since he was an outsider making art with pieces of a town's culture, Morton felt that part of his project was to get to know the community. So he had a social event planned for him nearly every night of the week.

Morton says, "part of [his] musical philosophy is to set up a situation, even if it's live musicians, and let them play and give up control to the musical outcome and see what happens." This philosophy certainly holds true for Morton's sculpture, sitting halfway across the country from its creator, waiting for anybody to walk up and give it a spin.

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