A few hundred audiles braved the cold to unite at the Washington Square arch in the early evening of December 15, 2008 to help create Unsilent Night. In Phil Kline’s annual non-sectarian holiday happening, a cloud of people carries the recorded sounds of bells, thumb pianos and gamelan like audio in boomboxes on their shoulders, under their arms, into a moving soundplay.
I particularly experienced this audio walk from Washington Square to Tompkins Square, as a lesson in seeing space with ears. In the openness of park one hears the auditory beauty for what it is, becoming instantly aware that the movement of people within the cloud will add a texture not conceivable at the Met or most any other sound venue. Once this urban highland band of MP3s and cassettes enters the canyon of Washington Place the spatial awareness lesson #2 announces itself: the block had become boombox. We heard what we heard before with reverb. How I wish my clone could have walked on Waverly crossing Greene and Mercer. How I wonder if he’d heard Washington Place in stereo.
Broadway came, and added its honks and squeaks, St. Mark’s Place its vaudeville rumble, and all along there was the chatter of participants, punctuated by the silent awe of people just coming upon us.
The chatter stopped when Tompkins Square Park summoned to form a huddle for a culminant Grand Finale. And if cell phones were still used, it was to expand the audience.
After the crowd dissolved, the night was cold again, but I had received new eyes. At next year’s Unsilent Night, I may come blindfolded.