Our Heavenly Bodies

Katherine Buse

Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Chicago


Rives Collins

Charles Deering McCormick Professor, Northwestern University


Stephan Moore

Sound Artist; Professor, Northwestern University


Scott Smallwood

Sound Artist, Composer, and Sound Performer; Director of the Sound Studies Institute, University of Alberta

Our Heavenly Bodies— Planetary imagination

Dr. Katherine Buse studies how ideas about nature and planetary systems are negotiated between the sciences and other parts of culture, especially science fiction. She places the film within a cultural history of planetary imagination, reflecting on the remarkable strategies that the film uses to depict different planetary environments.

Sound artists Stephan Moore (RTVF) and Scott Smallwood perform a live original score to the complete film; English narration of the film’s intertitles will be performed by Rives B. Collins, Professor of Theatre at Northwestern University.

Block Cinema: Northwestern University Evanston, IL

Film Synopsis

An exploration of the whole human knowledge of the 1920s about the world and the universe.

In 1925, German director Hanns Walter Kornblum set out to create a film unlike any that had come. His aim was a film that would serve as both a summation of all the astronomical knowledge available at the time and a dreamy investigation of what wonders might await humanity at the advent of space travel. With the help of 15 special effects technicians and nine cameramen, Kornblum's film is a technical marvel, one that revels in the beauty and mysteries of the universe.

About the Speaker

Katherine Buse is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Rank of Instructor in the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge at University of Chicago. She uses methods from science and technology studies, science fiction studies, and the environmental humanities to study how science shapes and is shaped by its cultural milieu. She is working on a book project, titled Speculative Planetology: Science, Culture, and the Building of Model Worlds. It describes planetary world building, or speculative planetology, as a set of shared practices built up between planetary and climate scientists, creators of speculative fiction, engineers, and policymakers since the middle of the 20th century.

Katherine also studies and designs video games, including being on the design team for Foldit: First Contact, a new narrative version of the citizen science video game Foldit. She received her Ph.D in English with an emphasis in Science and Technology Studies at the University of California, Davis in 2021. As a Marshall Scholar, she received an MA in Science Fiction Studies at the University of Liverpool and an MPhill in Criticism and Culture at Cambridge.

Rives Collins was honored with a Charles Deering McCormick Professorship of Teaching Excellence at Northwestern University, where he has taught in the Department of Theatre for the past thirty five years. An acclaimed professional storyteller (ORACLE AWARD, National Storytelling Network), he works with full faith that planting stories in the world is a bit like the work Johnny Appleseed once did. He recently delivered the keynote address at the National Storytelling Conference, celebrating the role of storytelling in the 21st century, and was subsequently honored to reprise the presentation at The Cradle of Creativity conference in Cape Town, South Africa, as an American delegate to the international congress of ASSITEJ. At the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, he teaches business narrative in the Advanced Management Program, asserting that storytelling is a differentiating skill in the 21st century that strengthens leaders, brands, and organizations. He is the co-author with Pamela Cooper of The Power of Story: Teaching Through Storytelling, proclaiming that, “Storytelling is at the heart of everything I do.” In addition, Collins is head of the Theatre for Young Audiences program at Northwestern, and is an active professional stage director, specializing in the development of new work. As an active member and past president of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, and as a current board member of the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America, he works with an international community of artists, educators, and scholars to champion the cause of drama and theatre in the lives of young people.

Stephan Moore is a sound artist working at the intersection of performance and interactive systems. His creative work is primarily concerned with the creation and perception of sonic environments, encompassing practices in field recording, physical programming, studio production, audio spatialization, loudspeaker construction and interactive software design. These often-collaborative projects manifest as sound installations, sound designs and scores for dance and theater productions, solo and group performance works and improvisations, generative compositions, and recordings. He is a co-founder of the Chicago Laboratory for Electro-Acoustic Theater, which produces monthly concerts of multi-channel audio at Chicago's Elastic Arts. As a musician and sound engineer, he toured with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 2004 to 2010. Moore holds an MFA in Integrated Electronic Arts from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he studied with and later toured with Pauline Oliveros. He also has a PhD in Computer Music and Multimedia Composition from Brown University. He joined the Department of Radio, Television and Film at Northwestern University in 2015.

Scott Smallwood is a sound artist, composer, and sound performer who creates works inspired by discovered textures and forms, through a practice of listening, field recording, and sonic improvisation. He designs experimental electronic instruments and software, as well as sound installations and site-specific performance scenarios. Important to his process is exploring the subtleties of sonic texture through gradual transformations of timbre, particularly with sounds that may have originated from specific recordings of objects or spaces. His compositional and improvisational work makes use of space explicitly, and often involves multiple channel environments, found sounds, and non-conventional instrumentation. His work has been presented worldwide, including recent presentations at SARC in Belfast, the Issue Project Room in NYC, the Burning Man Festival in Black Rock City, Nevada, the The Hong Kong Arts Centre, and Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts in Katonah, NY. His recorded work has been released on Autumn Records, Deep Listening, Wowcool, Simple Logic, Static Caravan, and Dead Definition Records.

In addition to his artistic work and research, Smallwood has been an educator in music composition and technology in the US and Canada for over 25 years. He holds music degrees from Seattle Pacific University, Miami University, Peabody Conservatory, and Princeton University, where he also held postdoctoral research associate position, working with the legendary Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk). From 1997 until 2003, he worked as a studio engineer, faculty member, and technical director in the electronic arts program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he developed a continuing interest in collaboration with artists in other media. He is currently the Director of the Sound Studies Institute at the University of Alberta, where he serves as a Professor of music composition and technology.