And to continue the holiday music theme... Saturday night in Baltimore is a seasonal event that could be described as anti-carolling. Phil Kline's "Unsilent Night" is a participatory work for boom boxes. Anyone who wants to take part simply shows up at a specified site (in Baltimore, the meeting point is the male/female sculpture in front of Penn Station, no later than 6:45 p.m. on Saturday), preferably with a portable tape player/boom box; those who bring them are provided with cassette tapes and told when to switch them on. At the appointed hour the line of people begins walking through the city streets, in the early winter evening, with the boom boxes humming and murmuring through and around the crowd, so that the sound of the piece takes concrete form in the human chain walking along, sometimes (in New York, when I took part in 2004) blocking traffic, sometimes encouraging others on the street to join in, or wish that they were part of it.
"Unsilent Night" has been mounted somewhere every year since 1992, and it's spreading: this year, it will be done in 25 cities, from London, England to Melbourne, Australia. Kline has had a banner year this year, with two new and very noteworthy recordings, John the Revelator (a contemporary Mass) and Around the World in a Daze, an electro-acoustic DVD extravaganza whose cover reflects the boom box theme. With "Unsilent Night," though, Kline clearly tapped into a desire for tradition, opening up the joy of participation in seasonal music without the religious overtones. ("Unsilent Night" has no words.)
(read more after the jump)
When I took part, as a reviewer, I briefly wondered whether my participation breached the ethical code that dictates a critic should remain an observer. And my participation certainly had an effect. At one point in the parade my shoulder bag evidently hit the Stop button on the top of the boom box. I quickly pressed Play again as soon as I noticed. But this meant that at the end of the piece, when all the tapes die away together and leave everyone in silent fellowship (in Baltimore, this will happen at the Metro Gallery, where there will be an after-party), there was one disturbance: my boom box, like Faulkner's evocation of the puny inexhaustible voice, still talking away until the composer, distressed, made his way through the crowd and shut me off. You can't take a critic anywhere.
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