New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

“Unsilent Night (Stationary Mix)” (MP3)

Boom Times: Baltimore carolers in 2009 carrying their Unsilent Night boomboxes

It was Unsilent Night two nights ago in Dallas, Texas, and in Charleston, South Carolina, as well as in San Francisco, where I live, and in lower Manhattan, where Unsilent Night was created by composer Phil Kline in 1992.

The night prior it was in Asheville, North Carolina, and the night after it hit Salt Lake City plus three spots up the West Coast: San Diego, Los Angeles, and Vancouver. Tonight, December 20, it starts in Cambridge (the one in Ontario). And those are just a few of the many instances of Unsilent Night this year. Last year it hit London for the first time, this year Hong Kong.

Unsilent Night is a non-denominational ambient caroling event, no singing required. You download one of a handful of tracks from the Unsilent Night website ( or Facebook page (, and show up at the appointed spot at the appointed hour. From there, however many dozen or hundred participants will click play at more or less the same moment, and walk along a pre-determined route. The one in New York goes from Washington Square Park to Tompkins Square. In San Francisco every year it starts and ends at Mission Dolores Park. The tracks are not all exactly the same, and in addition to the way their sound complements each other, you have the slight variation in reproduction quality and time-sync from all those boomboxes. The result, chaotic as that might suggest, is a glistening holiday treat.

I’ve attended many times (while looking for Creative Commons images to accompany this article, I stumbled on several candid photos on in which I was prominently featured), and have joked/planned with one friend for some time that we would walk it backwards. I’ve also intended to stay put and listen to it pass. Last night ended up being appropriate for the latter. I staked out the path from a second story apartment, and put a digital recorder on the window sill. This is the result:

This is not the full piece. It began several blocks away prior to when the recording begins, and ended many more blocks after it passes. It seemed like the smallest showing for Unsilent Night that I’ve ever witnessed, perhaps owing to the cold weather, and thus the crowd was sparse and the line relatively brief. In other years, the gathering boombox-holders (and people who love them) have filled the street as they made their way. Last night, they walked two at a time down the sidewalk.

Still, the recording is a good representation of the sonic experience, the way the sounds interact, the way street noise and camaraderie add further elements of chance sound, and the way the built environment shapes the overall aural experience.

For historical context, here’s a good piece by Kyle Gann from 1998 that considers Kline’s work in the broader context of what he, and others, called “downtown” music, referring to the music of Lower Manhattan:

And so the Downtown composer is attracted to media and materials that don’t carry a strong sense of tradition. Phil Kline makes music for an array of ghetto blasters. David Weinstein’s Impossible Music orchestra performs on hot-wired CD players. Many of the best Downtowners are pioneers in sampling, using bits of other recordings to make their own music. Or else Downtowners borrow rhythms and instruments from other cultures, combining elements into new hybrid musics. Downtowners do not feel that the meaning of a piece of music can be entirely captured by notation, and they often develop pieces in rehearsal rather than by trying to notate every nuance for an ensemble of complete and possibly unsympathetic strangers.

Full piece at Unsilent Night has become such a phenomenon, it’s helpful to understand from whence it came, the group of composers out of which Kline arose, and the community in which his music first took root. The work’s blossoming in some ways is reminiscent of other ’80s and early-’90s New York City projects like William Wegman’s dog photos and the Blue Men Group, one-time art-world peculiarities that went from modest pursuits to global perennials. Wherever in the world Unsilent Night happens this time each year, its boombox-wielding participants are briefly transported to lower Manhattan in spirit.

(Above photo courtesy of the Commons at

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , , , / Comments: 3 ]


  1. William Weir
    [ Posted December 21, 2010, at 1:50 pm ]

    I went to this for the first time a few weeks ago in New Haven. We had about 50 people there, about as many as there were boomboxes provided. With the four different parts – all randomly assembled – I liked how the music morphed when I weaved around the group. Afterward, Kline led a spirited Q&A. All in all, a good time!

  2. papernoise
    [ Posted December 31, 2010, at 5:49 am ]

    This is really an amazing concept! It’s actually pretty simple… and yet so powerful! Makes a lot of ideas blossom in my head! Thanks!

  3. Marc Weidenbaum
    [ Posted January 3, 2011, at 10:55 am ]

    @William: I wish there had been such an event when I lived in New Haven (1984 – 1988).

    @papernoise: Why don’t you look into running one in your town in December 2011?

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


Subscribe without commenting

  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

  • Field Notes

    News, essays, surveillance

  • Interviews

    Conversations with musicians/artists/coders

  • Studio Journal

    Video, audio, patch notes

  • Projects

    Select collaborations and commissions

  • Subscribe

  • Current Activities

  • Upcoming
    • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of
    • January 6, 2023: This day marked the 11th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.

  • Recent
    • April 16, 2022: I participated in an online "talk show" by The Big Conversation Space (Niki Korth and Clémence de Montgolfier).
    • March 11, 2022: I hosted a panel discussion between Mark Fell, Rian Treanor and James Bradbury in San Francisco as part of the Algorithmic Art Assembly ( at Gray Area (
    • December 28, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation.
    • January 6, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • December 13, 2021: This day marked the 25th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
    • A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at

  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

  • disquiet junto

  • Background
    Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.

    Recent Projects

  • 0548 / Drone Vox / The Assignment: Make a drone using just your voice.
    0547 / Genre Melee / Combine two seemingly different genres.
    0546 / Code Notes / The Assignment: Make music that includes a secret message.
    0545 / Unself-Awareness / The Assignment: Learn from feedback intended for others.
    0544 / Feedback Loop / The Assignment: Share music-in-progress for input from others.

  • Full Index
    And there is a complete list of past projects, 548 consecutive weeks to date.

  • Archives

    By month and by topic

  • [email protected]

    [email protected]

  • Downstream

    Recommended listening each weekday

  • Recent Posts