It’s been almost two years since Hurricane Katrina destroyed a vast chunk of New Orleans, but the devastating aftermath of the negligence that led to the broken levees continues to resound across America.

While opinion poll numbers for our seated federal government careen into a self-created abyss, creative works like Spike Lee’s HBO documentary series and this week’s groundbreaking New Music Collective presentation, Katrina Ballads, weave facts that are so horrific as to seem untrue into a living record of one of our country’s biggest, ugliest fuck-ups.

As he watched the tragedy unfold, Katrina Ballads composer and performer Ted Hearne, who created and heads a nonprofit fund-raising organization called Yes is a World that “works to promote peace and social change through musical diversity and the collaboration of young artists,” found an unexpected source of inspiration.

“I was incredibly affected by Katrina,” Hearne says. “I know everyone sort of was, but it really fucked me up a lot, and when it happened I was trying to experiment with putting different kinds of music together — rock elements and popular music elements with some more modernist classical elements. At some point I realized I had been thinking about Katrina for months, and it became clear to start setting the texts from what people said to music, and all of a sudden the music that I was writing and sort of failing at writing started to make sense when I put those words to it.”

For Katrina Ballads, Hearne sets primary-source texts — quotes taken from New Orleans residents, government officials, journalists, and celebrities (including a large chunk of rapper Kanye West’s oft-quoted tirade against the portrayal of blacks in the media) during the harrowing days following Katrina’s landfall — to his stirring, diverse original compositions, resulting in songs like the unsettling, staccato “Brownie, You’re Doin’ a Heck of a Job,” in which Hearne repeats and cuts up the infamous sentence spoken by George W. Bush, to rousing effect.

The show, which debuts in full for Thursday’s one-night-only Piccolo performance, is a cutting-edge, massively collaborative work that features 11 instrumentalists and five singers, plus production assistants.

Hearne’s dedicated ensemble will converge on Charleston from New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco — and from right here in town, with New Music Collective founder/director Nathan Koci and assistant director Ron Wiltrout playing horn and percussion, respectively.

“Ted’s a pretty infectious, positive kinda guy, and he has a lot of people who would clear their schedules to fly down to Charleston for a week,” Koci says. “I think everyone really believes in the project. We did a preview in New York in March, and it’s such an emotionally-charged piece … the message that it sends and the awareness that it raises of Katrina as something that still isn’t finished, that a lot of things are still not OK down there. It’s a good time to really take a look at what happened, and it’s really telling of sort of where we are as a nation, for better or for worse.”

New Music Collective presents Katrina Ballads • Piccolo Spoleto’s Spotlight Concert Series • $12 • (1 hour 15 min.) • May 31 at 6 p.m. • Circular Congregational Church, 150 Meeting St. • 554-6060