Indianapolis’ Forward Motion wants you to join them for a night of “caroling” in Downtown Indianapolis this Saturday. Rather than a singing voice, however, the new music ensemble just asks that you bring a boombox or music-playing device.
Now for the second year, the group will lead the city in an interactive music tradition known as “Unsilent Night.” On Saturday, Dec. 7 at 6:30 p.m., participants are instructed to meet downtown in front of the Soldiers & Sailors Monument. Aside from dressing warmly, all that’s asked of “carolers” is that they bring a portable music playback device (such as a boombox, tape player, CD player or phone). From here, they’ll embark on a musical excursion unlike any they’ve ever been a part of.
Originally conceived back in 1992, “Unsilent Night” is a piece that was written by New York-based composer Phil Kline. “He had this idea for a public art piece that involved caroling at some sort of party installation, so he composed this electronic piece,” explains Forward Motion clarinetist Eric Salazar. “The inspiration for starting it was a combination of his love for experimental electronic music and memories of Christmas caroling as a kid.” To explain it simply, “Unsilent Night” consists of four primary musical parts that all interact with one another throughout the composition’s 45-minute entirety.
“Each person picks a part—they’re just labeled one, two, three and four,” Salazar says. “At the beginning, you just do a countdown, and everyone presses play at the same time. Then, you go on a 45-minute quasi boombox-caroling parade.”
With all of this being said, “Unsilent Night” is unique in that it’s completely dependent on active audience participation. “The performers are the audience,” Salazar says. “There’s either no audience or no performers, depending on how you look at it.” This communal element is what first made Forward Motion percussionist Corey Denham want to give “Unsilent Night” a try in Indianapolis last year.
“I love musical experiences that blur the lines between composer, performer, and audience,” Denham says. “In this piece, everyone participates as a performer and audience member. As someone who is usually performing music for people, it's very exciting to share in the experience more equitably.”
A piece that has now been performed all around the world, “Unsilent Night” takes a different shape in every destination, explains Salazar.
“There’s this magical sensation where the sounds of the city are also in your ears because you’re outside walking,” he says. “So the sounds of the city blend with this piece of music. It’s pretty special because we truly are doing the Indianapolis version of this piece of music.”
After a first go-around in Fountain Square last year, “Unsilent Nignt” is set to fill the Downtown Indy air this holiday season. Participants will meet up with Denham, Salazar, and company in front of the Soldiers & Sailors Monument, before embarking on a 45-minute stroll through downtown. The “Unsilent Night” assemblage will then wind up at the Rhythm! Discovery Center, where they’ll be treated to hot chocolate, baked goods, and a performance from Forward Motion (all free of charge).
“Forward Motion is interested in performing classical music in a variety of spaces that you wouldn't usually expect to find classical music,” Denham says. “We love the music we make, and we want to share it with as many people as possible.
He continues, “In order to do that, we like to explore venues and spaces outside of concert halls and universities. Our hope is that each year our hosting of ‘Unsilent Night’ is seen as welcoming and accessible to everyone.”
Through events such as this, Forward Motion is also trying to help Indianapolis exist as part of a bigger conversation as well.
“We’re trying to tell the rest of the country that Indianapolis is a place where you can play new classical music,” Salazar says. “There’s an audience for it, and we’ve got venues that are open to it.”