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Culture Lust Weekend: Unsilent Night, El Vez, and Specimen

Audio

Aired 12/18/09

Culture Lust's Angela Carone offers her ideas for what you can do over the weekend.

Below is a transcript of my interview on KPBS Morning Edition, or you can just listen to the audio. I recommend three unusual, sure-to-be-memorable options for your weekend.

Here are the important places to go on the web to learn more about each event:

Unsilent Night To find out how to download Kline's composition and get more information about the San Diego event, call or email Ellen Weller at 619-263-8002 or eweller@palomar.edu.

El Vez at the Casbah

Specimen at the Lux Art Institute.

El Vez, the Mexican Elvis, performs at the Casbah on Saturday, December 19th.
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Above: El Vez, the Mexican Elvis, performs at the Casbah on Saturday, December 19th.

And now for the interview....

Alan Ray: It's time to start thinking about the weekend and KPBS arts and culture producer Angela Carone is here to help. She's got two unusual music events to recommend. The first is an evening of caroling, but it's not the kind of caroling most people know, is it Angela…

Angela Carone: No, it's not, mostly because there's actually no singing, though there is music and there is walking. The event is called Unsilent Night and it's caroling, but electronic music style.

It was started by a composer named Phil Kline in New York back in the early 90s and now it's become a cult favorite in cities all over the world. This is the 8th year San Diego has done it.

Here's how it works: the public is invited to come an take part in this parade of people walking through the streets, carrying boomboxes, all playing different parts of a composition by Kline called Unsilent Night.

Here in San Diego, the path winds through the Gaslamp.

Pamela Davis: Can anyone participate in this or do you have to have a boombox….

Angela Carone: Anyone can walk with the group, but if you have a boombox or any player – it can be a CD player or mp3 player - then you really should bring it. The organizers hand out cassettes and CDs of Kline's music. If you have an mp3 player then you have to download it from home. There's a countdown and everyone pushes start at the same time and off they go.

An image taken by Chrys from an Unsilent Night event in Charleston, South Carolina.
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Above: An image taken by Chrys from an Unsilent Night event in Charleston, South Carolina.

It's like a walking sound sculpture and the music is really beautiful. In fact, let's actually listen to a quick excerpt of one portion of Phil Kline's composition Unsilent Night…

MUSIC CUT: UNSILENT NIGHT

So as you can hear, it has bell sounds, electronically generated, and some of the other pieces have choral sounds, and the music builds over the course of the piece.

Now at the live event the sound is really organic because it's mixing with the sound of the street and bouncing off building so it's unique each time.

Alan Ray: So where should people go if they want to participate?

It starts at the Gaslamp trolley station at 7pm on Saturday night. The whole walk through downtown is about 45 minutes. As I said, if you have an mp3 player, you have to download the music. If you go to my Culture Lust blog, I'll have links to where you need to go.

Alan Ray: The other music event you want to talk about is also Saturday night and it couldn't be more different. This one stars the Mexican Elvis?

Angela Carone: Yes, El Vez will be performing his Christmas show on Saturday night at the Casbah. Now El Vez is not an Elvis impersonator, though he dresses like Elvis and has a pompadour. He performs like Elvis, but he also adds in other music icons like James Brown, and then he mixes all of that with aspects of Chicano culture and history.

The result is often hilarious, but it's also real social commentary. Let's hear one of his Christmas songs - it's called Brown Christmas.

MUSIC CUT: BROWN CHRISTMAS

From what I can tell, this song is pretty tame for him – a lot of his other music I've heard is more punk rock, and rockabilly influenced, more energized.

His show has a lot of Vegas-like aspects – there are multiple costume changes, he has backup singers/dancers called the Elvettes, on one video I watched, he had two of those giant blow up lawn ornaments of Santa Claus and a snowman on stage with him. So if you add all of that with the Latino history and Chicano politics you end up with – as he puts it – viva las vegas becomes viva la raza.

Items for sale at the Lux Art Institute's temporary store called Specimen.
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Above: Items for sale at the Lux Art Institute's temporary store called Specimen.

Pamela Davis: The cool thing about this is El Vez is actually homegrown?

Angela Carone: Yup. His real name is Robert Lopez and he grew up in Chula Vista. In fact, before he was El Vez, he was in a punk band called The Zeros. But now he's kind of a cult figure and plays all over the world as El Vez.

Pamela Davis: Ok, so Saturday night at the Casbah you can see the Mexican Elvis for yourself. We have time for one other thing.

Angela Carone: Oh, great. I'd like to recommend a shopping option for holiday gifts. The Lux Art Institute has a temporary store called Specimen and it's got one of a kind items all selected by long-time gallery owner Mark Quint and local artist Adam Belt.

It's a mix of antiques, items from nature, and science – all one of a kind. If you think about the most interesting eccentric you know and then imagine his or her curio cabinet, you're close to imaging what's there. A terrific place to find unique gifts.

Announcer: You can learn more about all of these events on Angela's arts blog Culture Lust on kpbs.org.

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