If you're partying it up in the "cold" December winter weather this Friday night, you might hear the distant sounds of shimmering bells and voices chanting. No, you're not going crazy (well, probably not). It's just Fast Forward Austin's performance of Phil Kline's Unsilent Night.
As the description on the Unsilent Night website explains, the piece "takes the form of a street promenade in which the audience becomes the performer. Each participant gets one of four tracks of music in the form of a cassette, CD or Mp3. Together all four tracks comprise Unsilent Night."
"The fact that the participants play different 'parts' simultaneously helps create the special sound of the piece," the site continues. "Participants carry boomboxes, or anything that amplifies music, and simultaneously start playing the music. They then walk a carefully chosen route through their city’s streets, creating a unique mobile sound sculpture which is different from every listener's perspective."
Unsilent Night events have been happening across the country, and the world, since 1992, as an alternative homage to holiday caroling. With boomboxes. This Friday's performance will mark Austin's second year of participating.
"One of our big goals at Fast Forward Austin is simply to bring new music to the Austin community," says Fast Forward Austin co-founder, composer Steven Snowden. "Typically we do that by presenting concerts in a somewhat traditional sense, but we wanted try something out to get people involved in a totally different way. Austin has such a strong sense of curiosity and adventure when it comes to the arts and we thought that a participatory project like Unsilent Night would be a really great fit. Not to mention that December weather in Austin is usually pretty cooperative for outdoor events."
It is the communal aspect of this performance event that has kept it going for so many years, as well as expanded it to so many locations. Unsilent Night modernizes the traditional experience of street caroling for a younger, and perhaps more urban, audience.
"[These events] really do seem to create an instant community," said Phil Kline in an interview with the Austin American-Statesman about last year's Austin premiere. "I think people feel a little unhappy, even lonely, at Christmastime... We almost always end with a bigger crowd than we start with. People will stop and say ‘What is this'" and then they join in."
"One of the really special things about this piece in particular," Snowden told CultureMap, "is that anyone and everyone can be involved in the performance with no prior musical training and it's fun for a really wide demographic. We had a very diverse group last year and we hope this event can continue to give Austinites a unique opportunity to enjoy each other's company and take in the beauty of our city all while making music together."
The experience should be rewarding for passersby as well as the active carolers since, as Snowden adds, "It's really quite an experience when you hear all of those boomboxes echoing back and forth between the skyscrapers."
Participants will gather at Buford Tower, at the intersection of Cesar Chavez and Colorado St. at 8 p.m. on Friday, December 7. The route will begin by walking along the lake, then up Congress, finally looping around to turn on 6th Street and ending at Easy Tiger for drinks at the end of the night. The charge will be led by Fast Forward Austin organizers, pianist Charlie Magnone and composer Andrew Sigler.
If you'd like to participate in Unsilent Night, check out the Facebook event page for more information. Bring your music player of choice and Fast Forward Austin will supply the cassette tapes or CD. Alternatively, you can download mp3 files of the piece or free iOS and Android apps here.
Fast Forward Austin requests that, if you have an extra boom box, or have extra batteries, please bring them.