Unsilent Night Critic's Choice Free Recommended Soundboard

When: Sun., Dec. 13, 5 p.m. 2009

Every holiday season since 1992, New York composer Phil Kline has been presenting his piece Unsilent Night in outdoor performances by and for the public, who literally carry the music as they stroll through city streets. Though a CD of the piece released by Cantaloupe in 2001 hints at its mesmerizing beauty, this is one work that needs to be experienced in the flesh. Its eight movements consist of layers of ethereal drones, bell-like electronic peals and chimes, and wordless vocals that intone drifting, hypnotic melodies, but the music gets its juice from the way live performances turn those layers into moving parts. Kline has isolated various components of Unsilent Night, and they're distributed to the performers on cassette or CD or as MP3 files; each brings a boom box, battery-powered iPod dock, or other portable audio player, and they all press play simultaneously. The components recombine, but in unstable ways: as the sounds bounce off buildings, carry on the wind, get soaked up by trees and bodies, and shift according to the distribution and orientation of the playback devices, Unsilent Night becomes three-dimensional, constantly changing in density, volume, and focus. This season Unsilent Night will be performed in 22 North American cities as well as in Melbourne, Australia, and the first official installment in Chicago is being organized by pianist Mabel Kwan, a member of Ensemble Dal Niente. Everyone is welcome to show up and participate—just RSVP to unsilentchicago@gmail.com to reserve a CD or cassette or receive an MP3 download link. The performance, which should run about 45 minutes, will begin at the Water Tower and move south along Michigan Avenue; it's hard to predict how many people will be participating, but in New York the number has peaked at about 1,500. —Peter Margasak

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