About Unsilent Night
Unsilent Night is an original composition by Phil Kline, written specifically to be heard outdoors in the month of December. It takes the form of a street promenade in which the audience becomes the performer. Each participant gets one of four tracks of music in the form of a cassette, CD, or Mp3. Together all four tracks comprise Unsilent Night. The fact that the participants play different "parts" simultaneously helps create the special sound of the piece. Participants carry boomboxes, or anything that amplifies music, and simultaneously start playing the music. They 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.
It all started in winter 1992, when Phil had an idea for a public artwork in the form of a holiday caroling party. He composed a multi-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 filling the air, reverberating off the buildings and city streets as the crowd walked a pre-determined route. Phil says: “In effect, we became a city-block-long stereo system.”
The piece was so popular that it became an annual tradition, and then an international phenomenon, spreading across the USA and to other countries worldwide. Since 1992, it has been presented in over 50 cities and four continents, drawing crowds of up to 1,500 participants in cities like New York and San Francisco.
About his inspiration in starting Unsilent Night, Phil says: “It was a combination of my love for experimental electronic music and memories of Christmas caroling as a kid in Ohio.”
Flavorpill describes the New York event as: "An annual seasonal favorite, Unsilent Night is an open procession for an unlimited number of boomboxes that starts under the arch of Washington Square Park. Musically, it begins with delicate strains of Phil Kline's composition rising as marchers turn their boomboxes up to 10 and wind their way through the streets of the East Village, enveloped in the bubble of Kline's glorious ambient score. Unsilent Night’s pageant ends under the giant elm in Tompkins Square as the final notes once again reach up to the heavens, offering thanks for the past 45 minutes of joy and redemption."
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Phil Kline makes music in many genres and contexts, from experimental electronics and sound installations to songs, choral, theater and chamber music.
Raised in Akron, Ohio, he came to New York to study English Literature at Columbia. After graduation, he joined the downtown New York arts scene: founding the rock band The Del-Byzanteens with Jim Jarmusch and James Nares, collaborating with Nan Goldin on the soundtrack to The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, and playing guitar in the notorious Glenn Branca Ensemble.
His early compositions grew out of his solo performance art and often used boombox tape players as a medium, most notably in the Christmas piece Unsilent Night, which debuted in the streets of Greenwich Village in 1992 and is now performed annually in cities around the world.
Other compositions include Zippo Songs, a song cycle based on poems Vietnam vets inscribed on their Zippo lighters, The Blue Room and Other Stories, written for string quartet Ethel, and Exquisite Corpses, commissioned by the Bang on a Can All-Stars.
More recent works include the choral Mass John the Revelator, written for vocal group Lionheart; a piano sonata, The Long winter, written for Sarah Cahill; and scores for three evening-length dance pieces by Wally Cardona: Everywhere, Site and Really Real. The sound installation World on a String opened the season at the Krannert Center in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, in September 2007 and SPACE for string quartet and electronics was performed by Ethel at the gala reopening of Alice Tully Hall in 2009.
2011 will see the premieres of A Dream and its Opposite, written for the La Jolla Symphony Orchestra, and Canzona a due Cuori, commissioned by the St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble. Kline is currently working on an opera, Tesla, in collaboration with writer-director Jim Jarmusch. His music is available on the Cantaloupe, CRI and Starkland labels.
Keep up to date with Phil’s newest works, recordings and more at his website.
Most people consider it loud and joyous. Glittering and mysterious. The average effect seems to be somewhere between pacifying and invigorating. Joe Woodard of The Los Angeles Times describes it as "A dreamy fruitcake of parts, tranquil even through its anarchy." And K. Leander Williams in Time Out New York says “Kline’s luminous, shimmering wash of bell tones is one of the loveliest communal new-music experiences you’ll ever encounter, and it’s never the same twice.” The Onion calls it “an ambient wash of heaven-sent shimmer, recognizable as seasonal mostly for its modulating bells and time-stretched hymnal melodies.”
Listen to a sample here:
It is 45 minutes long, the length of one side of a 90-minute cassette tape.
Your local event’s organizer will hand out a limited number of CD’s and cassettes before the event begins.
You can also download an Mp3 of any one of the four tracks of Unsilent Night at www.unsilentnight.com/download.html. The music is divided into four tracks each approx. 44 minutes long. You only need to download one track. At the event, all the tracks played simultaneously make up the entire Unsilent Night piece.
Not really! In the live outdoor Unsilent Night parade, people play one of four individual parts of the piece. The commercial recording of Unsilent Night is a “studio” performance of all of those parts combined. You could use the commercial recording as a last minute substitute if for some reason you’ve lost your single track—but it isn’t ideal.
If you don't have a portable music player, you are still more than welcome to participate in the walk and hear the music. However, the more boomboxes there are, the better the piece sounds, and the better the experience for all involved. So we strongly encourage everyone to come with an audioplayer, if you have one available.
Yes! Old fashioned boomboxes are ideal (and they look cool too), but we get Mp3 players, iPods, iPhones…People have even brought their laptops hooked up to large speakers mounted on a wagon. We’ve seen people with speakers mounted on helmets, and one guy who brought a boomin’ system on a Cushman cart. It helps to hook up small electronics like iPhones to a speaker, otherwise the sound is weak. Be as creative as you wish, as long as the sound is BIG.
A word of advice about boomboxes: hold them UP, on your shoulders. When held at one’s side, the sound gets lost and doesn’t carry.
More advice: Outdated and rare as they are, cassettes are still the ideal mode of play. CD or Mp3 players are fine too, though one warning with CD’s: they are much more likely to skip when you walk with them.
As Phil Kline told the San Francisco Examiner, "Unsilent Night was designed in 1992 to withstand the unreliability, playback delay and occasional quavering tones of cassettes. About 90 percent of people have CD and Mp3 players now, so I make CDs and downloads available as well, but there's something about the twinkling, hallucinatory effect of a warbling cassette tape that I enjoy.”
Every year Phil leads the original NYC parade, as well as a handful of other cities who invite him out. Phil enjoys getting to know each city’s unique landscape and community, and depending on his schedule, is also available to lead workshops, lectures, and performances of his more traditional compositions. If you’re interested in having Phil lead your event and/or present more of his works, inquire within: email@example.com.
Absolutely! People often bring their children, even infants and toddlers in strollers. Unsilent Night has in fact become a holiday tradition for many families. Some families have been doing it for the past 20 years, and their children have grown up walking Unsilent Night.
Yes! Anyone can produce this—individuals, arts organizations, museums, universities, towns & cities have presented it. Start your own! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will send you simple how-to guidelines.
It depends on who is presenting it and in what context. For many individuals we give a gratis license. However for professional organizations, arts presenters, municipalities and others for whom Unsilent Night is part of a marketed season, we do charge a licensing fee on a sliding scale.
Not really. We always say the more the better. There are four different tape parts involved. We’ve had groups as small as a dozen or so, which can sound quite wonderful, especially if the streets are quiet or narrow and resonant.
It depends on where you want to do it. We have found that in most communities, a permit is not necessary, even in New York or San Francisco, where the crowds number in the hundreds. It might be best to check if one is needed for your city or town since these rules vary.
Not at all. Any date in December leading up to Christmas is great. New York City’s is usually presented the weekend before Christmas. It’s your choice what day to present it, and what time, although we recommend starting after sunset.
No. Presenters may not charge admission for participation in Unsilent Night, or for the music. This event has always been free and open to the public, and always will be.
One additional area that we are developing is a media library. We've taken our own pictures, video and audio of previous Unsilent Night events in New York City, and we are certain that you and your participants have also accumulated quite a collection! We're hoping to gather as much of this as we can at sites like YouTube and Picasa and Flickr for both centralized viewing and sharing. Please let us know if you have any such media, or please point us to people and sites that have it, and if you would allow us to access it, that would be a great benefit to the cause. Send them on to email@example.com so that we can post them on our channels.
Phil Kline says, “In San Francisco the first time we did it there, the crowd was winding up the stairs along Dolores Park. When they saw me, a hundred yards ahead, starting to lead the line down the hill into the field, they all broke ranks and started running into the field from all directions at the same time. It was beautiful, like a wave of human music coming down the hill. I couldn't have planned it.”
No. Unsilent Night is about the holiday spirit in general, as it might relate to solstice, Christmas or Chanukah. It is very much in the tradition of a festival of lights, although in this case the lights are for the most part sonic (however some cities take this literally and involve lighting in the boombox parade, which is great). There are no recognizable Christmas carols in Unsilent Night, though if you listen closely, you might notice a few ancient chants.