Maybe you missed the spectacle on December 2: hundreds of holiday revelers wandering the streets of Breck, many hefting boom boxes over their heads like John Cusack in that scene from Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything, only instead of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” they were blasting tunes by New York City-based composer/performance artist Phil Kline, a hip alternative to caroling dubbed “Unsilent Night.”
Unsilent Night performances began in 1992, when Kline and a group of friends took boom boxes and went on a walkabout through Greenwich Village, each playing one of Kline’s four 45-minute electronic compositions. Since then, the public artwork/caroling party has been performed in 101 cities on four continents, from Brussels to San Francisco. A variety of portable devices were available to participants at the Breck event: boom boxes, tape decks, sound rigs created in workshops, but most simply chose to download tracks to their cell phones. Kline likes to say that his engagement of the public shakes up what we think of as caroling with a unique—even irreverent—use of sound and projection. As “carolers” walk through town on a designated route, the music is heard differently by every listener, a unique aural experience Kline refers to as “sound sculpture.” That resonated with the mission of Breckenridge Creative Arts (a.k.a. BreckCreate), a nonprofit partnership that curates events and activities in the Town of Breckenridge’s arts district, arguably the most vibrant of any Colorado mountain town.
“One of BreckCreate’s strengths is how interactive it is,” says Nicole Dial-Kay, the arts organization’s new director of exhibitions and special projects. “Its programming, which spans from performance to film, even touching on spiritual practice, gives artists of all calibers a level playing field [on which] to participate.”
Dial-Kay wants the public to be part of that process, putting a new spin on public art as “a platform for important conversations.” This winter’s programming does just that: interactive exhibitions that challenge people not just to passively consider art, but to engage with and become part of the work itself. Unsilent Night was one example. Another is Noise, a dual exhibition of Denver-based Jordan Knecht and Madison, Wisconsin-based Jonathan Mason, which explores the dynamism of, well, noise. But in addition to the obvious—sound—their work plays with visual noise, social noise, and linguistic noise, too, and how these play with and against each other.
For Noise, Mason created a piece called “You’re the Drummer to Whose Different Beat You Are Dancing,” which encourages guests to interact with electric sound pads that resonate differently depending upon how they’re touched, fading after a single note or reverberating in an infinite loop, which Mason uses as a metaphor for decision making. “It’s really about how the choices we make in our lives create the lives we lead,” he says. “You can make choices to build the life you want, or take risks and sometimes make the wrong choice, and those choices don’t go away right away, just like the sound might be there for a while.”
Knecht, whose works involve music, poetry, and printmaking, hopes his contribution to the exhibit will influence the way people think about—or don’t think about—the ambient noise of the world around them, noting that commonplace sounds of nature like the wind whispering through pines can become every bit as extinct in an urban environment as a wild animal species that has been displaced from its natural habitat.
“I want people to think about how they can be more attuned to their sonic environment,” says Knecht. “There’s a parallel to the visual environment, where aerial photographs give you a macro perspective on the world around you. I’m doing the same thing with sound.”
To that end, Knecht will use a variety of different devices, from electronic sound modules to Bluetooth-enabled headphones, and invite visitors to listen to and experiment with a variety of sounds, manmade and natural. He’ll also be handing out earplugs, a reminder that silence, the absence of sound, is a noise itself. And every bit as beautiful.
Dec. 1 to Feb. 25; Old Masonic Hall, 136 Main St, Breckenridge, breckcreate.org