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A Festivus of Sound

After Thanksgiving comes Phil Kline's "Unsilent Night."

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Tomorrow may be one of the more beloved holidays on the United States’ calendar, but a global secular holiday with a moveable dateline and a growing following begins soon after. This is “Unsilent Night,” the brainchild of composer Phil Kline. Each year in cities around the world, people gather with boomboxes and CD players, Bluetooth speakers and makeshift portable audio systems, and they create a lovely collaborative din. Kline’s “Unsilent Night” consists of four complementary (and complimentary — they’re free to download) recordings of sheer sonic tinsel. Individually they are enjoyable to listen to, but the real pleasure comes in hearing them played in near simultaneity on dozens of different audio players as you walk through the city.

When played in public on Unsilent Night, the tracks are delightfully discordant even beyond the intended combination of Kline’s four jigsaw compositions. First of all, no two people start their systems at the exact same time, and the lack of true sync lends the music an echo effect. Second, the playback varies from device to device: well-worn cassette tapes played against high-fidelity CDs, bass-heavy Jamboxes joining in a robot choir with tinny old RadioShack computer speakers. From a distance, it can look like a Say Anything flash mob. Up close, the chiming percussives bring to mind minimalist composer Steve Reich at his most ebullient.

The calendar is being updated at unsilentnight.com/schedule.html. Right now the earliest date is December 6 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Other dates include New York City, where the work originated 21 years ago in Greenwich Village, on December 14; Brussels, Belgium, on December 14; Los Angeles on December 21; and Kansas City, Missouri, on December 8. As of this writing, dates for San Francisco and Montreal, among numerous other cities, are not yet set.

If you bring a boombox to the event, tapes and CDs are usually available, albeit in limited quantities. There are also Android (in the Amazon app store) and iOS apps.

Here’s a video about “Unsilent Night,” filmed to celebrate its 20th anniversary:

More on the composer Phil Kline, who is working on an opera about Nikola Tesla with Jim Jarmusch, at philkline.com. Photo from a San Francisco Unsilent Night shot by Steve Rhodes, via flickr.com.

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Cues: Turner Query, InstaJam, Sound Videos

Plus: Phil Kline on Brian Eno, orchestral stasis, voice overacting, and more

â—¼ Shorted Shortlist: The shortlist for this year’s Turner Prize has been announced. The artists are Laure Prouvost, Tino Sehgal, David Shrigley, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. A writeup at blouinartinfo.com refers to Sehgal as a “first” for the Turner (“the first time an artist producing no object is included”), but I wonder if Susan Philipsz, who won for a sound-based work in 2010, doesn’t count in that regard. Charlotte Higgins, among others, noted this back in December 2010; Higgins wrote of Philipsz, at guardian.co.uk, that she “is the first person in the history of the award to have created nothing you can see or touch.”Then again, perhaps what the Blouin story, by Coline Milliard, is getting at is that even though ephemeral, the Philipsz piece in question — Lowlands, which involved multiple versions of the same 16th-century Scottish song — was still a self-contained work, unlike with Sehgal, whose “objectless practice involves events performed by participants.” For the record, I’m not remotely focused on art horse races — in “art competition” in general — but I am interested in how art horse races shape and illuminate things, like institutional conceptions of the role of sound in art.

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â—¼ What Sound Looks Like: That’s a visualization of the song of a humpback whale up top, below left crickets chirping and below right a Northern Cardinal. These are the work of Mark Fischer, who combined his interests in computer programming and marine acoustics. More at his website, aguasonic.com (via dailymail.co.uk, via io9.com).

â—¼ App Developments: You can now connect your instagram.com account to your thisismyjam account, and “use any Instagram photo as your jam image,” according to an email announcement from the latter service late last week.

â—¼ Unsilent Eno: “[H]aving invented the future, shouldn’t he be allowed to live in it?” — that’s composer Phil Kline (Unsilent Night) on Brian Eno returning time and again to particular themes and concepts (wqxr.org). … Speaking of whom, Eno’s latest installation is at the Montefiore Hospital in Hove, England (via longnow.org). This will, no doubt, lead to Eno’s Syndrome, a pathology suffered by those who seek treatment at Montefiore Hospital to take in his installation.

â—¼ Past Isn’t Past Dept.: The further ahead we progress, the deeper into the past we can delve. Technology continues to let us listen to things that were, until recent years, unlistenable, such as a recording of Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone: ibtimes.com:


â—¼ Live Film Sound: “The film has drifted into obscurity for one simple reason. … ‘The sound doesn’t exist.'” — that’s from Susan King’s piece in The Los Angles Times about the resuscitation of The Donovan Affair, a 1929 Frank Capra film (“the first all-talking motion picture he directed for Columbia Pictures”). There’s now a live theatrical version of the film, with actors and musicians and others providing audio to the projected movie. How did they get the script? There was a copy in the archives of the New York State Board of Film Censors — “but it was only 60% to 70% accurate.”

â—¼ Voice Overacting: “It’s going really well but you don’t have to add your own sound effects” — that’s fight-training advice given to actress Hayley Atwell, who plays Peggy Carter in the recent Captain America films, at metro.co.uk (via io9.com).

â—¼ Sounds of Brands: “Live Music and a Canned Patron” — that’s the title of Ben Sisario‘s piece in The New York Times about the Red Bull Music Academy (nytimes.com). The academy began in 1998, 11 years after Red Bull was founded. The event in New York this year includes work by Brian Eno, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto, and Giorgio Moroder, among many others. Flying Lotus is an alumni; he participated in 2006, when the event took place in Melbourne — that’s the year of his debut album (1983, titled for the year of his birth). Red Bull is an essential case study in this class on sound in the media landscape I’ve been teaching.

â—¼ Sound Designers: There is a deep well of sound-design mini-documentaries about film over at soundworkscollection.com. Below is an eight-minute overview of the sound and music in the David Fincher version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, with commentary from composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, sound re-recording mixer Michael Semanick, and re-recording mixer, sound designer, and supervising sound editor Ren Klyce (thanks for the link, Max La Rivière-Hedrick of futurepruf.com). The discussion at one point focuses on an especially fine moment in the film, when the droning of a floor cleaner in a nearly deserted office building melds with the movie’s score:


â—¼ Orchestral Stasis: What follows are the fourth and fifth movements from the world-premiere performance of Markus Reuter’s “Todmorden 513,” a beautiful example of orchestral stasis. It was recorded at the King Center Concert Hall in Denver, Colorado, on April 18, 2013 (cinematographer and sound recorder Scott “Gusty” Christensen, music director/conductor Thomas A. Blomster):


â—¼ Interface Agnostic: “Be skeptical of the name and GUI of all your plugins.” — Excellent advice, both practical and metaphorical, from Brandon Drury in his column “I’m A Sound Designer: Game Changer #8” at recordingreview.com.

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Past Week at Twitter.com/Disquiet

Well, this is fortunate. In the past few months the two main semi-automated content features employed on this site stopped working. One was the monthly list of most-read posts, the other the production of weekly Twitter compendiums. The latter happened when the plugin Twitter Tools for WordPress (the backend of this site) stopped supporting weekly compendiums. Enter a plugin called Twitter Digest. This post was the first test. It worked OK. In advance of next week’s compendium, the reply tweets (the ones beginning with @) won’t appear. Previously, these ran in reverse chronological order, but this chronological setup below works well, so it’ll remain the way these will be formatted. (Two copies of this post appeared, and I have vague recollections of a similar issue with Twitter Tools. I’ll keep an eye on it.)

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Holiday Drones (MP3)

That is, of the sonic variety

The manner in which sonic shimmer can serve as end-of-year holiday music is summed up each such season by “Unsilent Night,” the communal boombox project by composer Phil Kline. The musician who goes by Le Berger, aka Samuel Landry, has himself embraced this aesthetic approach each of the past few years with what appears to be an ongoing accumulation of seasonal drones. The latest is “War Encore,” available for free download. Forgive these ears for thinking the pulsing arpegions that appear toward the end, emerging from the thick fog of tone, could be mistaken for a curt loop of “Carol of the Bells”:

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/leberger. The compilation of previous tracks in the series is at leberger.bandcamp.com. More from Le Berger, who’s based in Montréal, Canada, leberger.org.

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Whitest Noise

When aura is the point, not just afterglow

Leonard Rosados “Variation in White #1” has a seasonal feeling, in large part due to its resemblance — a comparison made with the intention of a compliment — to Phil Kline’s “Unsilent Night.” It has all the sheer, effervescent, slo-motion aura of an end-of-the-year celebration. It’s a carol, minus the melody. It’s lens flare, minus the ornament that has caught the flash cube’s glare. In his brief liner note to the album on which the track appears (A Long White Sleep, from the laverna.net netlabel), Mirco Salvadori recognizes these associations when he refers to Rosado’s “luminescent vision.” For five minutes, Roasado seeks to slow time by exploring conceptually and sonically a perception, a color, that symbolizes both vacuum and clarity.

It was originally posted for free download and streaming at soundcloud.com/leonrosado. More from Rosado, who is currently based in Gõteborg, Sweden, at twitter.com/leonrosado and subterminal.tumblr.com.

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