More From Phil Kline | Bleader

Friday, December 11, 2009

More From Phil Kline

Posted By on 12.11.09 at 07:14 PM

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Phil Kline
  • Phil Kline
Much of the appeal of Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night, which gets its Chicago premiere on Sunday evening, comes from the way the components of the moving sound installation bounce around, mutate in the atmosphere, and recombine. Kline got his start in the early 80s in a rock band with filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, the Del-Byzanteens, and also played for Glenn Branca in some of his early guitar ensembles. He’s long been interested in unstable sonic environments, though, and with one of his recent releases, Around the World in a Daze (Starkland), he tries to create similar effects in the studio.

He explains his outlook in the liner notes:

Few of the surround sound pieces I’ve heard are as interesting as stopping in the middle of a walk to anywhere and just listening to what surrounds you. . . . Often I think you have to be there in the room to experience it, the directionality, the flare of overtones, the fleeting confusion of accidental counterpoint. Part of the fun is trying to make sense of what you’re hearing, or what you seem to be hearing.
I can’t offer a definite opinion on how successful the new recording is, because it’s a DVD release with 5.1 surround sound and I don’t have the equipment to listen to it that way (there’s also a standard stereo setting, and the music holds up just fine in just two channels). The album’s ten pieces employ a wide array of approaches: “Svarga Yatra” combines a performance by the modern string quartet Ethel with the output of several boom boxes playing taped fragments of some of the players’ individual parts, and “Pennies From Heaven” recontextualizes the ringing-bell sounds common in Unsilent Night to create a downward cascade of tinkling tones that becomes more dense and cacophonous with every repetition of its simple phrase, building until 300 layered tracks are all chiming together.

Kline displays a very different side of his music on John the Revelator (Cantaloupe), a choral piece that draws from the Latin Ordinary but uses a custom-made set of Propers that take their texts from the Old Testament, American poet David Shapiro, the writings of Samuel Beckett, and early American hymns. Ethel provides stringed accompaniment, and the vocal sextet Lionheart sings the various texts with haunting clarity and bracing beauty. Kline isn’t shy about straying from the traditions of liturgical music: he incorporates various outside influences, among them minimalism and, on a piece called “Dark Was the Night,” the wordless moans of bluesman Blind Willie Johnson on the iconic song referenced in its title (which you can hear here). It’s a stunning piece of work that seamlessly transforms ancient traditions into modern music.

If you’re still on the fence about the free participatory performance of Unsilent Night, check out this report on a version in Baltimore three years ago.


Unsilent Night - FOX45 News Story from bsacawa on Vimeo.

Today’s playlist:

Ray Barretto, Que Viva la Musica (Fania)
Helena Espvall & Masaki Batoh, Overloaded Ark (Drag City)
João Gilberto, Brasil (Philips, Japan)
Tiny Grimes With Coleman Hawkins, Blues Groove (Prestige)
Jerry Butler, The Philadelphia Sessions (Mercury)

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