En masse they arrive with boomboxes at their side, waiting for the maestro’s cue.
Upon word from New York-based composer Phil Kline, the stereo-lugging public collectively presses "play" to unleash a cacophony in the streets.
The result isn’t some unruly disturbance; it’s a modern-day caroling of sorts known across the globe as "Unsilent Night."
Throughout the month of December, Kline’s seasonal sound project will encourage electro-carolers from Australia to South Carolina to gather in their respective cities and celebrate the season with the simple push of a button.
Come Saturday, it’s San Francisco’s turn to party with Kline and a brigade of boombox-bearers for the fourth annual "Unsilent Night" mile-long stroll in the Mission District. The amplified sounds of chimes, bells and traditional holiday hymns are set to reverberate across the urban landscape of alleyways and neighborhood storefronts for the holiday music street celebration.
"It’s a really beautiful experience that anyone can be a part of," Kline says. "People don’t have to do anything other than show up with a boombox and hit ‘play.’ It’s free, it’s easy and it’s an amazing thing to experience."
Kline, a composer known for his experimental edge, concocted the idea for "Unsilent Night" in 1992.
Inspired by the work of Brian Eno and Steve Reich, he isolated varied sounds on individual cassette tapes with the intention of playing each piece back simultaneously on different boomboxes to create a portable symphony. The piece, which now runs about 45 minutes and is available on CD from Cantaloupe, was designed to withstand the unreliability, playback delay and occasional quavering tones of cassettes.
"About 90 percent of people have CD players now, so I make [CDs] available as well, but there’s something about the twinkling, hallucinatory effect of a warbling cassette tape that I enjoy,’’ says Kline, who distributes the pre-recorded music randomly to boombox carolers at each event.
Initially, "Unsilent Night" was little more than Kline and a dozen of his friends strutting through Greenwich Village with boomboxes playing his cassettes, but that mini orchestral procession has since morphed into a gathering of 2,000-plus strangers in New York alone, Kline says of last week’s celebration in Washington Square Park.
"The New York event is definitely the biggest and it’s certainly very special to me on a level all its own, but San Francisco’s ‘Unsilent Night’ event is one of my favorites," he says. "The streets of San Francisco are a little more intimate and the sound is just amazing. I’d say it has the best sound of all the cities."
If you go
Presented by Phil Kline
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Dolores Park, 18th and Dolores streets, San Francisco
Contact: (707) 869-2778 or www.philkline.com