Is the event still on, they asked. Our boombox will get wet, they said. But the rain on Saturday night did not stop more than 30 people from coming out for the free 10th annual Unsilent Night, a street promenade during which participants simultaneously transmit one of four tracks that comprise composer Phil Kline’s “Unsilent Night.”
The crowd, carrying boomboxes on their shoulders and iPhones in the palms of their hands, met in front of the Dolores Park tennis courts at 7 p.m. A little after 7:30, with fingers hovering above buttons, the “performers” waited for a man wearing glowsticks around his neck and fluorescent green lights on his hat to announce, “Ready, set, PLAY.”
The 45-minute tracks floated from speakers and into the night as the crowd walked quietly along the park, crossed Dolores Street and headed down 19th. The music, an experimental electronic melody made up of bells and chimes, began delicately and ended joyously as the roving “sound sculpture” made its way through the streets and back to the park, where performers stood in a circle around a large palm tree and waited for the music to fade.
During the promenade, onlookers stopped in their tracks to listen, business owners stepped outside restaurants and shops, and people appeared in windows above, hands pulling back curtains illuminated by twinkling lights.
Since Kline first had the idea for the public artwork, in Greenwich Village in 1992, “Unsilent Night” has become an annual tradition in cities across the United States and as far away as Sydney, Australia.
“It was a combination of my love for experimental electronic music and memories of Christmas caroling as a kid in Ohio,” Kline says of his inspiration for the piece.
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Note: The soundtrack of the audio slideshow above, a recording of Kline’s “Unsilent Night,” was not recorded the night of the event. Although the music is the same, every public performance is different, depending on how many people participate and which track they play.