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North Adams Goes Unsilent: Electronic Audio Experience Fills Streets

Jim Levulis

A holiday audio journey experienced in cities around the world came to North Adams Thursday night.Phil Kline’s electronic composition titled Unsilent Night features four different tracks handed out on cassette tapes, CDs and MP3s in nearly 100 cities on four continents over the past 23 years. He tried it out for the first time in New York City in 1992.

“I’m going to put it on cassettes and I’ll put it on all my boom boxes,” Kline recalled. “I owned, like, two dozen and we’ll go outside and see what happens. It was really cool. Somebody said we ought to do this next year and I don’t think it ever occurred to me that it would.”

A group of about 70 people met in the MASS MoCA parking lot to begin the hour-long walk through North Adams. Some content with carrying boom boxes; others doubled up their strollers as both children and stereo carriers, but all anxious to hit play.

Leading the group with a stereo-loaded wagon in tote was Emily Watts of Frog Pond Creative. She helped bring the event to the Steeple City.

“One of the things that I particularly love about Unsilent Night is this idea of community and accessible and bringing light, music and pedestrian traffic to parts of the city that usually don’t see that kind of thing,” said Watts.

Some people went to great lengths for the inaugural event. Eric Kerns was pushing a dolly with an amplifier stacked and strapped on top of a milk crate.

“Well their website is pretty great,” Kerns said.  “It says rig up whatever you want and bring it. It’s cool.”

Kline says he never dreamed his composition would take off like it did and not fade out over more than two decades. Each year he only gets to about four of the events, some happening in Hong Kong, Beijing and Berlin while New York City’s has reached crowds of 1,500.

Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC
The audio journey started at MASS MoCA and looped back downtown near one of North Adams' Christmas trees.

“To me it’s like having a child who then grows up and then goes and does their own and you just stand back and admire it,” Kline said. “You know I’m thrilled. It’s just the piece and the way it makes people feel that’s doing the work, not me.”

Kline says the North Adams edition might become an annual event. Watts hopes so.

“All we can think of how do we make it even bigger and more fun and more awesome in years to come,” Watts said. “I’m going to need a bigger wagon.”

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