Kathleen Ritter & James B. Maxwell Call to Order

Call to Order is the musical sound of an organization. Using the minutes from board meetings as the harmonic framework for a potential musical score, Call to Order is a proposition: What does the administration of an organization sound like?

ARCA, PAARC, and Fillip are not-for-profit organizations governed by a Board of Directors, who meet regularly throughout the year. Meetings are generally conducted according to Robert’s Rules of Order, unless otherwise stated, and the proceedings are recorded in the minutes. The minutes reflect the particular character of each organization; whether it adheres strictly to the rules or order, or operates in a loose manner.

Robert’s Rules of Order was written by retired US Army Major, Henry Martyn Robert in 1876, and modelled on the rules of procedure of the US House of Representatives. Robert’s Rules of Order outlines a method for decision-making in which motions are made and discussed, then put forward to a vote. As a model, Robert’s Rules have been criticized for their capacity to limit discussion and silence dissent. Debate ends in voting, which forces a decision at the expense of continued dialogue. It is surprising then that Robert’s Rules are often used as the benchmark model of decision-making, even in alternative organizations.

Robert’s Rules of Order is the most boring book that one can read. Yet, despite its perfunctory nature, there is a poetry in the terminology of Robert’s Rules, a particular rhythm to the order of business, and an inherent performativity in the language: to call a meeting to order, to establish the order of business, to approve the agenda, to make a motion, to second the motion, to solicit debate, to amend the motion, to amend the amendment, to vote on the amendment, to call the motion to a vote, to vote on the motion, to make a motion to adjourn, to vote on the motion to adjourn, to adjourn. In reading the minutes of meetings, one can tell when a meeting went smoothly or when it collapsed in a mire of stalemated vote-offs, amendments of amendments of amendments, and mis-made motions. There is a kind of perverse musicality to it all.

If there were a counterpart to Robert’s Rules of Order in music, it would be Walter Piston’s Harmony, the authoritative reference for harmonic theory. Incidentally, Walter Piston was also involved in the military, having joined the US Navy as a musician, writing patriotic fanfares during WWII. In 1941 he wrote the book Harmony, using the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the stable period of common practice when there was comparatively little change in the harmonic materials used in musical composition. Piston’s Harmony is still a foundational guide for student composers today. Perhaps it is a mere coincidence that the rules of order for deliberative assemblies and the rules for harmony are both authored by US military men.

The inherent stability and unchanging status of both Piston’s Harmony and Robert’s Rules of Order are what define them as “Major” texts, in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense of the term, as opposed to the constant change and variation characteristic of more revolutionary, or “minor” texts. Operating in the minor mode means to borrow and divert power from major, established models in order to produce something unique, unpredictable, and in constant variation, somewhat like the minor mode in music. By this logic, if an organization were to operate in the minor mode, it would be exercising its revolutionary potential. Call to Order thus charts—through sound—an organization’s capacity to effect radical change.

In order to translate minutes from board meetings into music, we mapped out the terminology and operations from Robert’s Rules of Order onto Piston’s Harmony, finding possible points of similarity and connection between these two systems, and developed a harmonic rule base for the minutes. Then, from a close reading of the minutes, we deciphered points when a given meeting adhered to the rules of order and when it deviated from them, and made corresponding musical notations. The resulting graphical scores are not complete musical compositions, but represent frameworks upon which music might be made—they are musical works in potential. The graphical scores are then given to musicians to interpret and perform.

Call to Order, PAARC, March 5, 2012

Call to Order, Fillip, August 11, 2011

Call to Order, ARCA, February 7, 2012

Call to Order is the translation—into musical sound—of the meeting minutes of the organizations behind Institutions by Artists: The Convention (PAARC, Fillip, and ARCA). Call to Order uses a prosaic form of administration as material for creative production. Musical scores were created from the meeting minutes of each organization by mapping Robert’s Rules of Order onto the implied rules of Piston’s Harmony and using both texts as comparative guides.

Call to Order was interspersed throughout the space of Institutions by Artists as house music and sound cues during the debates, and as a live performance on Sunday, October 14, 2012. The live performance occurred at 1 pm in the World Art Centre Studio at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, Simon Fraser University and was performed by Peggy Lee (cello), Jon Bentley (alto and bass clarinets), and Chris Gestrin (piano)

Pictured above: Peggy Lee (cello); Jon Bentley (alto and bass clarinets), and Chris Gestrin (piano)

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