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Unsilent Night

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Album Review

Composer Phil Kline's got the right idea for the 21st century. Why make music that is staid and fixed in its grooves once it has been performed and recorded? Why not create a piece that is not only different each time it is performed, but has legs and moves from place to place each time as well? "Unsilent Night" is a sound sculpture created from a myriad industrial parts recorded on cassette tapes and played through a bunch of moving boom boxes. In 1992, at Christmas time, he recorded different parts of the composition onto a bunch of tapes, got a host of friends together, all of them with a different tape in their boxes, and they all went walking around New York together. Depending on where you were in the walking order, you heard something different. The audience consisted of those who chose to join the group on their merry way through the streets of Manhattan. They, too, depending on their proximity to whoever was in the group with the boom boxes, heard something different as well. It should be noted as well that this tradition has grown and the audience for it has too: there is an open invitation to join them on the CD. But what does it sound like? It sounds like the most beautiful music you ever heard in your life; it has a body, albeit a fluid one, lots of rhythm, harmony, lovely vocal choruses, and an abstract yet warm melodic structure in places. There is no sound that is unsettling to the human ear, no tone that rings untrue with the physical or psychological structure of the body. For the recording, to keep the spirit of the performances alive, Kline used bits of various recorded performances of the piece and strung them together into one large, gorgeous aural masterpiece that says as much about who we are as listeners — containers for sound and beauty — as it does about him as a composer. This is how music should be made, from the shimmering, glistening ringing and banging tones of everyday life and work, assembled in such a way that the listener is introduced to it anew each time he or she puts it on the box. And that is possible with the CD version as well. Try playing it on a portable CD player, recording it on a cassette, listening to it in your car player, listening to it at home with a different volume setting, or listening to it on a boom box at the lake or in the woods. The sonics will be undeniably different. Better yet, get two copies and start them a few seconds apart from one another or even simultaneously and see what happens. By doing such a thing — as Kline well knows with his separate cassettes on multiple boom boxes — the listener becomes an integral part of the process of creation. Perhaps Kline would even sanction folks going out and buying copies of his record, recording their favorite parts on a cassette tape, and getting together for their own walks through the streets of their cities, towns, and municipalities on the same evening as his every year, turning the air all over America into a wider multidimensional sound sculpture. Think of the possibilities. This work by Kline is that indispensable, because it doesn't just awe or entertain, it inspires action. This is the first necessary classical recording of the 21st century.

Unsilent Night, Phil Kline
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