Quirky Christmas Fun: Unsilent Night – Boom Box Caroling in Vancouver

Image: Unsilentnight.com

Along with the dozens of time-honored, traditional holiday activities happening in Vancouver this month, there are a few really neat, quirky ones.  One of them is Unsilent Night: a very unconventional interactive musical parade happening downtown on Dec. 19.

It’s a bit hard to explain exactly what Unsilent Night is.  It all started back in 1992 in New York City, when avant garde composer Phil Kline had an idea:  Why not update the tradition of Christmas caroling by introducing boomboxes and experimental music?  He created a special 45-minute composition – a soundscape full of bells and chimes reverberating and mixing to create a holiday ambiance.

Now here’s the interesting part.  He made copies of different tracks of the composition on cassette tapes (still standard technology at the time) and distributed them to dozens of friends.  Then, one night in December, they all met up in a public park with their boom boxes and pushed play at exactly the same time.  The result was a magical, swirling cascade of holiday sounds, which melded together and echoed down the streets as they marched through the city.

Here’s a YouTube clip of what the experience looks like, from San Francisco in 2006:

In the composer’s own words:  “Every year I present Unsilent Night, which is like a Christmas caroling party except we don’t sing, but rather carry boom boxes, each playing a separate tape or CD which is part of the piece.  In effect, we become a city-block-long stereo system.”  The synchronized boom box event has been staged in cities all around the world every year since 1992.  Last year, it took place in 25 cities, including New York, London and Dallas.

And this year, for the tenth time, Unsilent Night is coming to Vancouver.  On December 19, anyone wanting to participate can meet at Pacific Boulevard and Bidwell Street at 7 p.m.  Bring your friends, your kids, your dog – everyone is welcome.  The only real requirement is that if you want to take part in the composition, you need to bring some form of a boom box – whether it be the old-fashioned cassette kind or an updated version that plays CDs or mp3s.

Organizers will provide the music for everyone to use.  Then, all you have to do is push play and drift along in the cloud of sound as the parade of boom boxes winds its way through the West End.   For more information, check out the Unsilent Night Vancouver Facebook page.

Has anyone been to Unsilent Night in the past?  What were your impressions?  Please share by leaving a comment below.

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