What inspires you to compose/perform music that has political overtones? Dean Drummond

Dean Drummond
Photo by Bob Vergara

We live in terrifying times, and politics—who’s in charge, how they got there and how much power they have—can range from very scary to ridiculously silly to downright boring. I composed Congressional Record using texts from the web site of the U.S. Congress because I wanted to compose a piece that would be satirical and funny. In my opinion, parts of the U.S. Congressional Record juxtaposed with Kenneth Starr‘s Independent Counsel Report make for great satire and humor. Specifically, I juxtaposed Jesse Helms‘s 1997 tirade against the National Endowment of the Arts for its support of vulgar art with the details regarding Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky gathered for Congress by the Independent Counsel. Included also is a “reading” of parts of the actual proposed legislation to terminate the National Endowment for the Arts, and the piece ends with another tirade, this time against water conservation. All texts for Congressional Record were excerpted from four different sections of The United States Congressional Record. I did this excerpting myself and my idea was to create one character, a rather ridiculous “Super Senator” who would read the law and rant and rave, a 13-minute filibuster.

Never in Congressional Record do I make any kind of direct political statement, although I am pretty sure my sentiments are obvious to most people. The texts speak for themselves as satire. My main goal for this piece was to use the concocted text as a springboard for the transformation of expanded speech into music. I composed Congressional Record using a lot of microtones in the vocal part as well as the instrumental accompaniment. The accompanying ensemble uses electronic instruments and instruments built by Harry Partch and myself. The U.S. Congressional Record gave me rantings and ravings about everything from homosexual art to oral sex in the White House to toilets that don’t flush properly—and I had a blast exploring all of the musical possibilities.