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Updated Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 07:01 AM

Try ‘Unsilent Night’ for a ‘cloud of bells’ experience

By Michael Upchurch
Seattle Times arts writer

It’s the most benign form of audience participation: A crowd of people, with musical devices in tow, celebrate the winter solstice by strolling the streets of Wallingford, allowing four different intermingling ethereal soundtracks to envelop them as they go.

In 1992, when New York composer Phil Kline dreamed up “Unsilent Night,” he pictured it as a boombox event. Hence its 45-minute length (one side of a standard blank 90-minute cassette tape). Participants would pop the cassettes into their machines, hit PLAY and take off.

Later, with changes in technology, “Unsilent Night” became more CD-centric. These days, it’s an iPod/iPad/iPhone/Android affair, making the piece accessible to just about anyone with a smartphone.

Still, Seattle composer Josh Parmenter, who’s had a hand in the transition from analog to digital, felt something was lost during the CD era. While boombox tapes would fall out of phase over those 45 minutes, CDs kept surprisingly close time with each other. Parmenter thought it would be fun to bring the boombox randomness back into the event by programming the different phone apps to mimic the tapes.

“What you get,” he explained via email last week, “is everyone starting at the same time, but the longer the piece goes on, the more out of sync they become. Last year, this gave a wonderful ending at the Chapel Performance Space. As we got back, all the phones were finishing at different times. ... Layers slowly disappeared until only one was left. Quite beautiful.”

People wanting to participate in this free event should go to www.unsilentnight.com to download the music, then gather at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Good Shepherd Center’s Chapel Performance Space, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N., fourth floor, Seattle. After the walk, participants are invited to reassemble at the chapel for hot cider, snacks, music and prizes.

Parmenter describes last year’s walk as “a moving sound sculpture where everyone hears a different version of the whole. ... You really feel like you are in a cloud of bells.”

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com



Phil Kline's “Unsilent Night” in New York City, 2011.




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