Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night: Louisville is a free, outdoor participatory sound sculpture in Downtown presented by the Kentucky Center.
Phil Kline’s holiday cult classic
UNSILENT NIGHT to take place in more than 37 cities throughout December 2017
This pioneering work of public sound art debuted in Greenwich Village in 1992 and is today a tradition that has been celebrated in 100+ cities across five continents. Kline’s electronic soundscape is played by the audience on boomboxes—and amplified phones—carried through city streets. Each participant simultaneously plays one of 4 composed tracks, together creating a joyous noise on foot (on bicycles in Austin!)
“A brilliant bond of public space and listening public.”
— THE VILLAGE VOICE
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 promenade in which the audience becomes the performer (each participant gets one of four tracks of music that they play simultaneously), walking a carefully chosen route through a city’s streets.
It started in winter 1992, when Phil 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 some 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: an evanescence filled the air, reverberating off buildings and streets as the crowd walked a pre-determined route, creating a mobile sound sculpture different from every listener’s perspective. “In effect, we became a city-block-long stereo system,” says Phil. The piece was so popular that it became an annual tradition, and then an international phenomenon.
While technological advances allow the piece to now be played through a multitude of devices, Phil Kline originally designed the piece 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,” he says.
The studio recording of UNSILENT NIGHT, which layers all the tracks, is available on Bang on a Can’s Cantaloupe Music label.