Phil Kline's UNSILENT NIGHT 25th Anniversary Comes to New York City
This December, composer Phil Kline's luminous and shimmering mobile sound-sculpture UNSILENT NIGHT returns for a 25th anniversary edition in cities across the United States and abroad. Since its debut with some of Kline's friends on the streets of Greenwich Village in 1992, Unsilent Night has grown as a true word-of-mouth phenomenon; it is now a worldwide annual holiday event and has been presented in over 100 cities and on five continents.
Due to a large political rally in Washington Square Park planned for the same evening, the date for Phil Kline's Unsilent Night in New York City has been changed from Saturday, December 17 to Sunday, December 18 with a start time of 6:00 p.m. Phil Kline will lead a massive chorus of boomboxes from the West Village to the East Village. Hundreds of participants will gather at the arch in Washington Square Park, and less than an hour and mile later, end up in Tompkins Square Park.
Meanwhile, throughout the month similar parades will play out in cities as diverse as San Francisco, CA; Norfolk, VA; Hudson, NY; North Adams, MA; Houston, TX; Cambridge, Ontario; and many others. The complete list of 2016 participating cities is updated daily at unsilentnight.com.
Unsilent Night is an original composition by Phil Kline, written specifically to be heard outdoors in the month of December, always as a free event. It takes the form of a street promenade in which the audience becomes the performer. Each participant gets one of four tracks of music. Originally the music was played using only cassette tapes in boomboxes, but as vintage boomboxes have become harder to find, more people use smartphones with portable speakers to blast the music (by streaming audio or using the free Unsilent Night app which randomly selects one of the tracks to play). Together all four tracks comprise Unsilent Night. Participants start playing their devices simultaneously, then walk a carefully chosen route through their city's streets, creating a unique mobile sound sculpture which is different from every listener's perspective.
The studio recording of UNSILENT NIGHT, which layers all the tracks, is available on Bang on a Can's Cantaloupe Music label.
"Unsilent Night is like a Christmas caroling party except we don't sing, but rather carry boomboxes," says composer Phil Kline. "We're each playing a separate audio track which is part of the piece. In effect, we become a city-block-long stereo system."
The media has caught on to this growing cult-phenomenon, with coverage and critical praise from NPR, BBC, Channel 13 Metrofocus, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Baltimore Sun, The Village Voice, Flavorpill, New York Magazine, New York Post, and many others.
In winter 1992, Phil Kline (www.philkline.com) had an idea for a public artwork in the form of a holiday caroling party. He composed a four-track electronic piece that was 45 minutes long (the length of one side of a cassette tape), invited a few dozen friends who gathered in Greenwich Village, gave each person a boombox with one of four tapes in it, and instructed everyone to hit PLAY at the same time. What followed was a sound unlike anything they had ever heard before: an evanescence filled the air, reverberating off buildings and streets as the crowd walked a pre-determined route. The piece was so popular that it became an annual tradition, and then an international phenomenon.
While technological advances allow the piece to be played through a multitude of devices, Kline originally designed the piece in 1992 to incorporate the unreliability, playback delay, and quavering tones of cassette tapes.
"Today most people use digital audio players, so I make the audio available in that format as well-but there's something about the twinkling, hallucinatory effect of a warbling cassette tape that I enjoy," says Kline.
Phil Kline is a creator of songs, choral, chamber, and orchestral music, theater pieces, guitar noise, and sound installations. His early work often used massive numbers of boombox tape players as a medium, most notably in the outdoor Christmas piece Unsilent Night, which is performed annually in dozens of cities around the world. Other compositions include Zippo Songs and Rumsfeld Songs, The Blue Room and Other Storiesfor String Quartet, Exquisite Corpses, written for the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the mass John the Revelator and the song cycle-monodrama Out Cold. He hosts a daily radio program on WQXR/Q2 in New York City, and is currently collaborating with filmmaker Jim Jarmusch on a music theater spectacle about Nikola Tesla.
Photo by Lovis Ostenrik