From vast boombox symphonies to chamber music and song cycles, Phil Kline's work has been hailed for its originality, beauty, subversive subtext, and wit.
Phil Kline was raised in Akron, Ohio. He graduated from Columbia University with a degree in English Literature before embarking on a musical career. A figure in the downtown New York rock scene in the 1980s, he founded the band the Del-Byzanteens with filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and painter James Nares, collaborated with photographer Nan Goldin on the soundtrack to her Ballad of Sexual Dependency, and toured the world as a veteran of Glenn Branca's legendary guitar ensemble. He also produced and curated unique events such as the acclaimed "Alternative Schubertiade." Kline's achievements have been recognized with grants and awards from the American Composers Forum, Mary Flagler Cary Trust, Meet The Composer, the New York State Council for the Arts, and the Virgil Thomson Foundation. In 2004, he was the only classical composer nominated for the ShortList Music Prize, which honors the most creative records of the year.
In addition to alternative spaces, Kline's compositions have been performed at Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Miller Theatre, the Whitney Museum, MASS MoCA, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Philadelphia's Kimmel Center, and London's Barbican Centre.
Zippo Songs, a song cycle based on poems that American GIs inscribed on their cigarette lighters in Vietnam, was one of the most talked about CDs of 2004 (Cantaloupe Music). In addition to receiving news coverage by CNN, NPR, The London Guardian, and many others, the CD was named "Best of the Year" by The New York Times, Newsday, Time Out, and Gramophone. The New Yorker called Zippo Songs "one of the most brutally frank song cycles ever penned." The Philadelphia Inquirer described it as "Some of the most disturbing and compelling songs I've heard in ages." The recording of Zippo Songs also featured Three Rumsfeld Songs, with texts taken verbatim from Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon briefings (eliciting comment from the Defense Secretary himself).
Kline's signature boombox composition, Unsilent Night, debuted on the sidewalks of Greenwich Village in 1992 and is now a cult holiday tradition. It has spread to cities like Baltimore, Charleston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego, and San Francisco, as well as Canada (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Vancouver), Germany (Berlin), the UK (Middlesborough), Australia (Sydney), and the Yukon. A public Christmas-time parade of hundreds of participants carrying boomboxes through city streets, Unsilent Night builds a peaceful, multi-dimensional sound environment of otherworldly voices and bells. Jon Pareles wrote in The New York Times: "It immerses a listener in suspended wonderment, as if time itself had paused within a string of jingling sleigh bells."
Bang on a Can released the CD of Unsilent Night on its Cantaloupe label in 2001. The famed new music collective has championed and toured Kline's music ever since his breakthrough piece, Bachman's Warbler, for tape loops and 12 harmonicas, premiered at the 1992 Bang on a Can Marathon. In 1997, Kline wrote his sextet, Exquisite Corpses, for the Bang on a Can All-Stars, who featured it on Cantaloupe's debut CD Renegade Heaven. His string quartet, The Blue Room, was also featured on Ethel's self-titled Cantaloupe CD. Bang on a Can plans to release its third all-Kline disc in 2007.