very strange...and haunting...
Composer Phil Kline invites you and your tape player to come play a tune
Thursday, December 21, 2006
"Unsilent Night," composer Phil Kline's incredibly successful and
increasingly performed boom-box piece, came out of a Christmas party
"In the late '80s and early '90s, I was experimenting with artist
boom-box music, making instant tape loops as solo performance pieces.
I was talking to someone about making a portable orchestra," Kline
says. "It was just this idle fantasy, but then we were talking about
Christmas caroling, like when we were kids, and I just suddenly had
this idea of writing a piece for cassettes and walking around with
Kline's first "Unsilent Night" 15 years ago drew maybe 50 people with
a few dozen boom boxes in New York City. Now his New York event draws
thousands. It's also become a global phenomenon fueled by Internet
word of mouth, with performances this year in New York, Philadelphia,
Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and two cities in Australia, among other
locales. This is the fourth year that San Franciscans have
participated; several hundred attended last year's performance.
Kline says he finds San Francisco to be "the most beautiful
sounding." Here's how it works: People come to Dolores Park with a
boom box, and Kline provides a tape of his piece. (This year, he has
put up music files on his Web site for downloading -- in case people
want to bring an iPod with speakers.) Together, the boom boxes play
"When you have large numbers of tape players, each running at
different speeds, there is an interactivity of the sounds," he says.
"It is way different than if you played the same track through one
One thing about "Unsilent Night," though -- it sounds nothing like a
Christmas carol. Kline took the more ancient ritual of winter
solstice celebrations as his inspiration, so the only Christmas
carols you might hear embedded in the program are medieval; his
vision is rather dark. "I try to address all of this in the piece,
the mystery and scariness of Christmastime, with a light coming out
at the end.
"I didn't entirely resist the idea of sounds that are glittery or
mimic a choral voice. But the tune of 'Silent Night' isn't anywhere
7 p.m. Sat. Participants are encouraged to bring a boom box or
download the song into an iPod, and bring portable speakers. After
assembling, the group will go on a 1-mile walk. Free. Dolores Park,
18th and Dolores streets, S.F.
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