A performance piece for three winds, two computers, and audience with Turning Technologies response clickers.
by Tayloe Harding (University of South Carolina) and 
David Brian Williams (Illinois State University Emeritus)

Grassroots 2008 and 2012 is a music performance event that combines composed and improvised music accompanied by a synchronized series of digital images that originally explored issues of the 2008 presidential campaign:  the grassroots movement of the citizenry as well as issues to the current economy, global conditions, federal government, and the campaign.  The audience actively participates in the performance by voting on these issues using a small, handheld response "clicker."  In 2011 for the University of Huntsville New Music Festival we were invited to prepare and perform a 2012 version of Grassroots.  

The composition, or better labelled, a performance piece, was a collaboration between the two of us: Tayloe Harding composing the music score and digital track, David Williams composing the sequencing of digital imagery, political opinion pieces, and programming the audience polling, and both of us working out the overall structure and form of the piece.  The concept was done as a research project to approach the challenge of creating a musical event where the audience could be active participants using commercial technology.  At the same time, we sought to create a context that encouraged the audience to contemplate many of the deep political issues that have gripped the nation over the unprecedented two-year-long political campaign for President of the United States.

The performance piece consists of a prologue followed by four sections.  Each section of the composition begins with a pre-composed interlude where the audience views a collage of images focused on the political issue; the interlude is series of political statements offering the audience the opportunity to anonymously vote their level of agreement, strongly agree to strongly disagree, and see the results in real-time.  Based on the results of the polling displayed as a bar graph on the screen, the wind players depart from the pre-composed music to improvise on music snippets provided to match the voting results.  The musical result will therefore vary from performance to performance based on the political bias reflected in the audience voting.  The final section of the composition concludes with the audience voting their selection for President.  Every effort was made to maintain an unbiased political stance in the photos, issues, and music selected.

The wind instrumentation for the 2008 version was clarinet, saxophone, and flute, all playing from a prepared score. For 2012, it is presently scored for clarinet, sax, and trombone. One computer provides pre-composed digital music using GarageBand; the other computer provides the pre-composed video sequences of digital imagery and voting selections synchronized from PowerPoint with the music. The second computer also processes the audience voting data received via the handheld clickers.

Keeping Grassroots updated was a challenge given the rapidly changing political landscape especially for the upcoming 2012 election.  Since the Huntsville performance in February 2011, only three of nine GOP hopefuls still remained on the list for the October 2011 performance in Richmond VA.  For the 2012 version we made several compositional changes based on feedback from the Huntsville composers in attendance and we made a distinction to clearly recognize the Tea Party GOPs from the Mainline GOPs.

Tayloe Harding and Dave Williams, January 2012

  • September 2008.  Brookwood High School, Snellville, Georgia. College Music Society Community Engagement Activity. Grassroots 2008.
  • September 2008. The College Music Society's 51st Annual Conference, Marriott Marquis Hotel, Atlanta, Georgia. Grassroots 2008.
  • November 2008. University of Alabama-Birmingham.  UAB Computer Music Ensemble Concert, Grassroots 2008: Post Election Edition.
  • February 2011. University of Huntsville New Music Festival,  Grassroots 2012
  • October 2011. The College Music Society Annual Conference, Omini Hotel, Richmond VA, Grassroots 2012.
  • January 24th, 2012.  Illinois Wesleyan University performance with Town Hall discussion of the campaign issues.   Bloomington-Normal, IL.  Grassroots 2012.
  • October, 2012.  Town-Hall format performances at Georgia State University.

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