Silent disco has become a common name for a disco where people dance to music listened to on wireless headphones. Rather than using a speaker system, music is broadcast via a radio transmitter with the signal being picked up by wireless headphone receivers worn by the participants. Those without the headphones hear no music, giving the effect of a room full of people dancing to nothing. Often two DJs compete for listeners. Silent discos are popular at music festivals as they allow dancing to continue past noise curfews. Similar events are "mobile clubbing" gatherings, where a group of people dance to the music on their personal music players.
Although the idea of dancing "en masse" with headphones has only come to fruition in recent years the idea of doing so has been around for a number of years. Probably one of the first visual occasions where people were wearing headsets during a party was in 1969 in a Finnish science fiction film called Ruusujen Aika, "A Time of Roses". The concept was also used by eco-activists in the early 90’s who utilized headphones at outdoor parties to minimize noise pollution and disturbance to the local wildlife.
Terming it 'Silent Disco', the name has gained acceptance, with the Oxford Dictionary Online adding it in February 2011. As interest has increased, there has been a rise in the number of companies organizing parties and providing events with wireless headphones; from festivals and club nights to weddings and corporate parties, silent discos have become increasingly popular, with some companies even proposing home kits.
Another type of silent party, known as mobile clubbing, involves the gathering of a group of people in an unconventional location to dance to music which they provide themselves via a portable music device, such as an MP3 player, listened to on headphones. These flash mob gatherings may involve hundreds of people, transforming public spaces into temporary clubbing areas, in which dancers listen to their personal playlists. To an observer it would appear that the participants are dancing for no apparent reason. Mobile clubbing events are organized using mass-emails, word-of-mouth or social networking websites such as Facebook, or a combination of these methods.
The first event, organised by London-based artists Ben Cummins (also founder of Pillow Fight Club) and Emma Davis, was at London's Liverpool Street Station in September 2003. Over the next five months there were a further five events at other London train stations including Waterloo, Charing Cross and London Bridge. By the end of 2008 there had been more than twenty of these events at similar venues throughout London, mostly train station concourses or other public spaces that lend themselves to expressive dancing and rapid dispersal.
A headphone concert' is a live music performance where the audience, in the same venue as the performing artist(s), listens to the music through headphones.
The idea originated in 1997 when Erik Minkkinen, an electronic artist from Paris, France, streamed a live concert from his closet over the internet. Three people in Japan are said to be the first headphone concert audience.
The first headphone concert taking place in front of a live audience took place March 20, 1999 at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. The American psychedelic band The Flaming Lips used a FM signal generator at the venue and handed out mini FM radio receivers and headphones to each member of the audience. A normal speaker system was also used so the sound could also be felt. This new concept in live music continued on their International Music Against Brain Degeneration Revue tour with mixed results due to technical problems like dead batteries and drunk or stoned portable radio operators having trouble dialing in the FM frequency.
Recently, headphone concerts have gained popularity using specially designed wireless 3 channel headphones, better in-house custom made transmitters and no speakers or any live PA in the venue as the technology has vastly improved. Big Events including the 2010 Shift Festival in Switzerland, the 2011-12 Van's Warp Tours across North America, Sensoria 2012 in Sheffield, UK, the 2012 Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee and the Hoxeyville Music Fest in Michigan. In 2012, Kid Koala performed a "Space Cadet Headphone Concert tour" around the world.
Recently live Electronic Dance Music performances and live DJ events have been labelled "silent discos" by the company "Silent Events" in Nashville, Tennessee. Started in 2005, they are the first business solely based on providing silent events like headphone concerts and silent discos.
A variant of the silent disco involves live bands competing for the audience. The bands are supplied with electric instruments that are plugged into a transmitter rather than an amplifier, meaning that the only sound which can be heard from the band without headphones is light tapping from electric drums and the singer's vocals.
In August 2008, a silent Battle of the Bands was held at The Barfly music venue in Cardiff courtesy of SilentArena Ltd a Cardiff based company. The event featured bands going directly head-to-head, with a stage at each end of the venue, allowing gig-goers to choose which group they wished to listen to. The event was featured on BBC Introducing, a radio show hosted by Bethan Elfyn, as well as having coverage on S4C.
Theatre and performance companies are now beginning to exploit silent disco technology as well. In 2009, Feral Productions began using an experimental approach – a mixture of narrative-led performance, sound art and guided exhibit. Their first performance, The Gingerbread House, took the audience from The Courtyard, Hereford on a journey through a multi-storey car park in the centre of Hereford. In 2010, their second show, Locked (Rapunzel’s Lament), took place in a children’s playground, also in Hereford. Silent theatre techniques are now being used by companies in Liverpool, Birmingham and Glasgow.
Silent Disco technology has been also been used over the past few years for "Silent Cinema" events, including film launches and rooftop cinemas. It has also inspired and been used for operatic performances by Silent Opera.
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