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I’m finishing up a tetralogy of music theater works that examine how recordings have reengineered the psychological landscape of the U.S. The tetralogy began with Tone Test at the Lincoln Center Festival in 2004, has continued with productions of Mass and Time and Motion Study, and ends with the 2010 production of Border Towns at HERE. Information about the individual works is below. You can also see a complete list of works and performances.

Border Towns

Border Towns explores how recordings have re-engineered the psychological landscape of the U.S., stitching together hundreds of recordings collected along the borders. Seven performers lipsync, sing, and move precisely with a dense map of song fragments, ambient sounds, and border broadcasts. Along the way, musical Americana gets reconstructed into a surreal theatrical collage reflecting on recording, location, and culture.

Time and Motion Study

Time and Motion Study takes as inspiration technological culture of the 1920s and 1930s, when Muzak was first pumped over telephone lines to bolster worker productivity. In a large arena somewhere between a factory, an office, and a Wagnerian opera, eight performers sing, lip-synch, bricklay, and shovel, coordinating their movements precisely with a dense electronic maquette of sound effects, song fragments, and recorded text. Time and Motion Study sonically traces the history of background music, deconstructing how it has seeped into modern U.S. culture and influenced daily work rituals.


Mass reworks pop tunes heard over the last 30 years, creating a kind of secular service based on ephemera of U.S. pop culture. Mass is half American Idol and half religious service, combining virtuosic singing with hand-to-hand combat.

Tone Test

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.