Skip to content

Tone Test

» New York Times feature preview
» NPR’s “The Next Big Thing” preview

tonetestHempel

Tone Test, a chamber piece for two singers and a phonograph, is based on the Edison tone tests of the 1910s and 1920s, in which Thomas Edison invited audiences to compare the tone of his phonograph to a live singer.

The stage was dressed as a living room, the lights were dimmed so that the singer was barely visible, and songs were tossed back and forth between phonograph and singer—who was secretly trained to lipsynch and mimic the sound of the phonograph. My own work uses these popular lip-synch contests as a way of looking at how recordings fit into modern life. Tone Test has been composed with the help of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and Djerassi and Rockefeller Foundation residencies, and was premiered at the Lincoln Center Festival in July 2004, featuring performers Dina Emerson (Meredith Monk Ensemble, Cirque du Soleil) and Greg Purnhagen (Phillip Glass Ensemble, Toby Twining Music), and director David Herskovits (Target Margin Theater).

Tone Test stars the popular 1920s singer Anna Case, who performed Edison’s tone tests in Carnegie Hall and across the U.S. Anna Case was, by some accounts, Edison’s secret paramour, and over the years she trained her voice to sound like his invention, to prove to the audience that her recordings were more “real” than her own live performances. Playing with the blurred line between reality and imitation, sincerity and artifice, Tone Test reworks musics from across the century—from Edison’s favorite genres of the foxtrot and sentimental song, to more contemporary styles—in a new approach to technology and live performance.

Here is a track from Tone Test:

I_Am_The_Edison_Phonograph.mp3

You can also listen to the mp3s of “One Rose In The Back”, and “You Feel This”, also from Tone Test, from the Jukebox on the right side of the page.

[slideshow id=2]

Director: David Herskovits
Music Director: Alan Johnson
Set and Costume Design: Carol Bailey
Lighting Design: Beverly Emmons
Technical Director: Dan Dryden
Live Sound mixer: Chris Tignor