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 an FM-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.
Due to noise restrictions, Glastonbury Festival held a large-scale wireless headset event in 2005, hosted by a Dutch company called 433fm, which had developed a plan for various music events across Europe using wireless headphones in 2002, initially beginning with an illegal party at Parade Festival in the Netherlands. Terming it 'Silent Disco', the name has gained acceptation, 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 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.
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Theatre and performance companies are now beginning to exploit silent disco technology too. This ground-breaking approach – a mixture of narrative-led performance, sound art and guided exhibit - was pioneered by Feral Productions in 2009. 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 has now taken off as a successful performance mode, with companies in Liverpool, Birmingham and Glasgow using the technology to varying ends.
Recently Naomi Kendrick, a Manchester, England based artist, used wireless headphones as part of a participatory music drawing event, where those taking part wore the headphones and could choose between two different channels of music to draw to.
Silent Disco technology has been also been used over the past few years for "Silent Cinema" events, including film launches and rooftop cinemas.
In 2012 Paul Rosenberg an entrepreneur from Australia started utilizing Silent Disco technologies for not only Silent Disco parties but for Silent Cinemas, Shop launches, Children's Parties, Healing and meditation, Conferences and seminars, translation services and exhibitions. In a recent article in "The Age" newspaper, silent disco was the number one most cutting edge trend in Australia. http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/about-town/offbeat-diversions-20120920-2694b.html?fb_action_ids=10151447169402575&fb_action_types=og.recommends&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=246965925417366
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