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Unsilent Night: Come On Feel the Chimes
by Jerome Weeks 17 Dec 2010

Unsilent Night is a “participatory sound sculpture” — people walk through downtown playing recording tracks of bells and chimes. Consider it a hi-tech form of holiday caroling. Gary Brown brought the 19-year-old New York event to Dallas last year and he’s making it an annual tradition.


Gary Brown at Mokah Coffee Bar in Deep Ellum

‘Unsilent Night’ is an annual event that started in New York 19 years ago and has spread to 25 cities. On a holiday evening, people walk through downtown playing recordings of bells. KERA’s Jerome Weeks talks to the organizer of this new tradition in Dallas.

  • KERA radio story:
  • Expanded online story:

[ambient sound of bells and chimes]

New York composer Phil Kline established Unsilent Night in Greenwich Village in 1992. He calls it a ‘participatory sound sculpture.’ In advance, people download one of four music tracks Kline has created. Then they play them back on boomboxes or laptops as they walk a particular route through downtown.

Gary Brown considers it a hi-tech form of holiday caroling.

Brown: “It’s caroling without the voices – letting just the pure instrument of bells and chimes become the voice.”

Brown works as a Dallas forensics consultant. He heard about Unsilent Night in a National Public Radio story on KERA in 2003. Brown figured someone locally would pick up the idea, especially when the radio story was repeated the following year. But over the next several years, no one did, even as Unsilent Night started up in cities as far away as Melbourne, Australia and London, England.  (Although an “Unsilent Night” was staged in Plano in 2008, it was a rock festival — an unrelated event.)

So Brown decided to organize a Dallas Unsilent Night himself. He learned the New York founders have specific guidelines.

Brown: “It’s very important that it is always a free event, that’s it’s always an event where no one makes any money off of it.”

Brown also checked out possible city ordinances and permits. It turns out that Unsilent Night doesn’t erect a stage, doesn’t block streets or sidewalks and doesn’t sell merchandise, so our inalienable American rights to congregate and make happy holiday noises are in effect.

Last year’s Unsilent Night participants walk past the Crow Collection of Asian Art

With only several days’ notice last year, more than 180 people showed up. Unlike any other city, Dallas has two walks, the first in the business district, the later one in the Arts District. Brown lives downtown and he wants people to rediscover the area during the holidays. Besides, he says, the tall buildings provide unique, dynamic acoustics that pay off for the entire public, participatory, performance art aspect of the event. What’s more, walking the route means Unsilent Night does not create some persistent noise pollution — the sound of the bells and chimes echo and fade. If sounds could “glow,” Brown says, these do.

Unsilent Night has taken root everywhere it’s started. So Brown expects a larger crowd this Saturday (the new starting point is the DART Akard Station), and he plans to keep expanding; he’s arranging for a sponsor next year.  And so far, he says, he’s had no complaints.

Brown: “What I have experienced is people coming out of cafes and bars and restaurants with very broad smiles on their faces. As one owner told me, ‘Why haven’t you been doing this all along?’”

Full press release follows:

On Saturday, December 18, 2010 the 2nd annual Unsilent Night Dallas, the Texas version of Phil Kline’s “Unsilent Night” will take place in Downtown Dallas at the DART Rail: Akard Station, located on Pacific Avenue between Akard and Field streets (north side of the tracks). Event details and extensive information can be found at: www.UnsilentNightDallas.com.

Originally conceived by Mr. Kline, New York City has celebrated the Holiday season by holding this amazing event since 1992. As many as 1,500 eager partakers gather annually for a contemplative procession along that city’s sidewalks armed with boomboxes playing nothing more than the beautiful, mysterious sounds of echoing bells. In 2009 Dallas joined 24 other cities around the globe who invited their citizens to come together and create this intriguing and inspiring performance art experience. In only it’s first year, Unsilent Night Dallas was an immediate success with greater than expected crowds turning out to participate in each of the two, differently routed walks.

Unsilent Night is a free, outdoor participatory sound sculpture experience consisting of four separate soundtracks which participants download from the internet onto their cassettes, CD’s, or as mp3 files. The participants then bring their boomboxes loaded with one of these four soundtracks to the event’s starting point and together, with all soundtracks playing simultaneously, become a walking processional orchestra. The large group slowly strolls along a designated route, drifting peacefully through a cloud of holiday sound as each person experiences the event from their own perspective.

This event is free and will be held regardless of the weather. It is recommended to arrive at least 30 minutes before the departure of the 7 PM route through Downtown Dallas and/or the 8:30 PM route through the Arts District. Everyone should gather at the north side of the DART Rail tracks at the Akard Station where instructions will be given before each walk begins. People are encouraged to bring one or more boomboxes or similar devices with them to broaden the scope of the experience. However, with or without one, all are invited to bring their friends and family to participate in this wonderful, innovative performance art experience.

The soundtracks can be downloaded by going to www.UnsilentNightDallas.com, where much more additional information about this event can be found.

Screen captures of last year’s Unsilent Night crowd (above and out front) from ObserverDallas video