The work, Longplayer, was composed for singing bowls — an ancient type of standing bell — which can be played by both humans and machines, and whose resonances can be very accurately reproduced in recorded form. As such, the work is designed to be adaptable to unforeseeable changes in its technological and social environments, and to endure in the long term as a self-sustaining institution.
However, the artist, Jem Finer, explains that the preoccupations that led to Longplayer’s conception were not of a musical nature; they concerned time, as it is experienced and as it is understood from the perspectives of philosophy, physics and cosmology.
It occurred to me that to make a piece of music exactly 1000 years long not only solved the problem of how to “make” time, but added another dimension to the idea by opening up questions about music and sound, composition and duration. The simple idea that popped into my mind, “write a 1000 year long piece of music,” demanded solutions to an ever expanding range of questions; how to deal with changing cultural perceptions of music, how to listen to music too long to hear completely, where to place it, what technology to base it on, how to make it available to the public… and perhaps most importantly, how to plan for its survival.
Longplayer can be heard in the lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf, London, where it has been playing since it began, as well as in various listening posts around the world and globally via a live stream online.
Longplayer has a dedicated website: longplayer.org
Image: The singing bowls that play Jem Finer's Longplayer (2000). Photograph: Bruce Atherton and Jana Chiellino
Longplayer has always served to remind us of times we cannot imagine. In this moment, the Longplayer app also makes us question our relationship to the gadgets we carry around with us. While most of us delete and download new tools as we upgrade, an app for a thousand years provides a still point at the centre of the digital universe. – James Bridle, The Guardian
Longplayer is a concept, the way it can be experienced by contemporary audiences must perpeually shift with the times. Its original form was a computer programme, generating the piece in real time; at the moment, you can also listen via an app, but future speculative formats include mechanical machines designed to play the work if the computers that play it at current ever become obsolete.
This app requires no data connection and automatically synchronises itself with every other copy of the app across the globe. With this app you become part of a community of listeners distributed through space and time, across many lifetimes.
To listen to Longplayer, live-streamed from Trinity Buoy Wharf Lighthouse, London E14, download the m3u file above and then open in your media player (for example iTunes). Note: If your browser is Safari, this download may open a new page in your browser and play in the background.
If your media player enables open streams, copy and paste this link – http://stream.spc.org:8008/longplayer – to play the stream. Open Stream is under the File menu in iTunes.
Image: Jem Finer's Longplayer (2000) at its listening post in Trinity Buoy Wharf Lighthouse, London (2013). Photograph: James Whitaker
The composition of Longplayer results from the application of simple and precise rules to six short pieces of music. Six sections from these pieces – one from each – are playing simultaneously at all times. Longplayer chooses and combines these sections in such a way that no combination is repeated until exactly one thousand years has passed. At this point the composition arrives back at the point at which it first started. In effect Longplayer is an infinite piece of music repeating every thousand years – a millennial loop.
Image: Part of the graphical score for Longplayer (31 December 2012)
Each year, as a way of celebrating the vision behind Longplayer’s long term aspirations, Artangel and The Longplayer Trust invite a leading cultural thinker to conduct a public conversation with someone they have never met, and to engage in a discussion inspired by the philosophical premise of a project which unfolds, in real time, over the course of a millennium.
The inaugural Longplayer Conversation took place in 2005 between New York artist and musician Laurie Anderson and Nobel prize-winning author Doris Lessing. Since then, meetings between two thinkers have continued to take place in the context of Jem Finer's one thousand year long musical composition.
The following conversations are available to hear on Soundcloud:
2005: Laurie Anderson and Doris Lessing
2007: Bruce Mau and David Adjaye
2008: Alain de Botton and George Soros
2009: The Long Conversation
2011: John Gray and James Lovelock (also available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube)
2012: John Lanchester and Caitlin Moran (also available to watch on YouTube)
2013: Richard Mabey and Richard Holloway (also available to watch on Vimeo or on YouTube)
2014: Brian Eno and David Graeber (also available to watch on Vimeo or on YouTube)
2016: Marina Warner and Ali Smith
As of 2016 all conversations will be curated and produced by The Longplayer Trust, and available to listen to on longplayer.org.
Image: (left) Ali Smith and (right) Marina Warner in conversation at The Anatomy Lecture Theatre, King's College, London (2016). Photograph: Christian Payne
This conversation took place 7pm, Tuesday 7 October 2014 at the Royal Geographical Society, London SW7.
Artangel invited members of the audience to ask Eno and Graeber questions after the event via e-mail or social media. A selected number of those were answered and responses can be read in full here.
Q. Would love to hear any thoughts you might have on how we can create more "non-bullshit jobs".
– from @joe_shreeve, via Twitter
A. (Brian Eno) Give people more time to invent them! Reduce working hours all round and people will start finding ways of filling their 'spare' time – and some of those ways they find will turn out to be of real value to themselves and to other people too. Most people don't want to sit in a sofa all day watching daytime TV: people like doing things that are useful or fun or joyful or exciting – if they're ever given the chance.
A. (David Graeber) I totally agree with Brian on this one. I always use the example of prisons. Even in minimum security prisons where people are fairly comfortable, they use work as a reward: if you don’t behave, we’ll take away your work privileges. If there was ever proof that people don’t want to just be fed and sheltered and sit around all day that’s it (especially when you consider these aren’t a collection of the most public-spirited people in the world.) The question is, what system is likely to come up with a better idea of what you have to contribute to the world: the “market”, or letting everyone decide for themselves. You might say the latter might lead to a lot of people spending their lives on silly or useless projects, but at least they’re almost certain to be more interesting silly or useless projects than all those bullshit jobs the market has produced.
Part one of the first ever Artangel Podcast recorded on the 10 year mark of the projects duration on December 31st 2009 when the 1000-year long piece of music reached the 1% mark.
Speaking from the Longplayers original listening post at Trinity Buoy Wharf lighthouse, Jem Finer reflects on the origins, meaning and future of the composition. In September of that year he oversaw its transformation from an automated algorithm to a 1000-minute live performance: this feature includes excerpts from The Long Conversation, the epic 12-hour relay debate that accompanied this event. The excerpted speakers are Jeanette Winterson, Mark Miodownik, Sophie Fiennes, Daniel Glaser, Susie Orbach and Andrew Kotting.
Part two focuses on The Museum of Non Participation, an Artangel project conceived by Karen Mirza and Brad Buter in 2007.
Producer: Iain Chambers
You can listen to all Artangel Podcasts on Soundcloud.
Image: Trinity Buoy Wharf Lighthouse (2000). Photograph: Stephen White
By a statistical argument, had nature not produced thin-tailed variations, we would not be here today. One in the trillions, perhaps the trillions of trillions, of variations would have terminated life on the planet. – Nassim Nicholas Taleb to Stewart Brand
Ideology and ghost stories are timeless. What I'm proposing is the difference between fiction and nonfiction, between imagination and reporting. — Stewart Brand to Esther Dyson
Read a chain of written correspondence on the subject of long-term thinking. Unfolding slowly over time, the Artangel Longplayer Letters are forming a written conversation in which each conversant is both answering his or her predecessor and thinking toward his or her successor.
Brian Eno to Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Nassim Nicholas Taleb to Stewart Brand
Stewart Brand to Esther Dyson
Esther Dyson to Carne Ross
Carne Ross to John Burnside
John Burnside to Manuel Arriaga
Manuel Arriaga to Giles Fraser
On 12 September 2009, to mark Longplayer's 10th anniversary, The Longplayer Trust presented Longplayer Live: a live performance of a 1000-minute section from Longplayer's 1000-year duration. Artangel presented a twelve-hour talking marathon involving twenty cultural figures. Both events took place at The Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, London
Based on a graphical score that describes a deceptively simple system of advancing loops of which Longplayer is composed, a relay team of performers, six at any one time, played a twenty-five-metre-wide instrument made up of six concentric circular tables holding 234 precisely tuned Tibetan Singing Bowls.
The Musicians were Douglas Benford, Steve Beresford, Gina Birch, John Bisset, Ansuman Biswas, Tom Chant, Richard Cripps, Peter Cusak, Rhodri Davis, Ben Drew, Jem Finer, Iris Garrelfs, Darryl Hunt, Ivor Kallin, Andrew Kotting, Kaffe Matthews, Graeme Miller, J Maizlish Mole, Hayley Newman, Michael Ormiston, Spider Stacy, Emma Stow, David Toop, Candida Valentino and Laura Williams.
A timelapse video of this performance is available to watch on Vimeo.
Alongside the unfolding music, a twelve-hour series of one-to-one conversations between twenty different speakers on long-term themes took place in The Roundhouse's Studio Theatre.
The speakers were Jeanette Winterson, Susie Orbach, Daniel Glaser, Sophie Fiennes, Mark Miodownik, Cory Doctorow, Ruth Padel, Lewis Wolpert, Charles Arsene-Henry, Mark Lythgoe, Bonnie Greer, Marcus Du Sautoy, Robert Peston, Steven Rose, Lisa Jardine, Andrew Kotting, David Toop, Mark Haddon, Rachel Armstrong and Vincent Walsh.
Left you can hear Lisa Jardine in conversation with Andrew Kotting, Recorded 12 September 2009 at The Roundhouse, London.
This, and all the other conversations can be heard on Soundcloud.
Image: Susie Orbach and Jeanette Winterson participating in Longplayer Live at The Roundhouse, London (2009). Photograph: Bruce Atherton & Jana Chiellino
It marks time like a sonic Stonehenge. — Mark Espiner, The Guardian
Beneath Longplayer’s simplicity lies something more complex. […] It also raises questions. For instance – why have we been duped into thinking that the new millennium’s all about one wild night? But Finer’s Longplayer is no protest against short-termism. — The Herald, 2 December 1999
The intention [of Longplayer] is that its droning and parping will, like this year’s eclipse, make the hearers ponder the passing of time in a way that makes you feel both mortal and insignificant. — The Evening Standard, Going Out, 30 December 1999
If infinity anxiety spawned the piece, it is performative anxiety that is now driving Finer. What if there were a power cut? What if there were a war or a natural disaster? What if the computer crashes? […] Longplayer mocks the temporary and limited zones of the Millennium Experience. It marks time like a sonic Stonehenge. There’s no real rush to catch it, it will outlive you, but listening to it in that lighthouse somehow makes you a part of its determined beam of sound. ‘The air is full of sound information,’ says Finer, ‘from the radio waves of mobile phones to an exploding star. I like the fact that its all going on around us. The fact that this piece just exists is reassuring.’ — Mark Espiner, The Guardian, 24 May 2000
Longplayer is […] more like a soundscape, or a piece of installation art, than a conventional piece of music. You can never experience it all. It will outlive you. If you listen to a fragment of it, you can but imagine the rest: the unknowable, ineluctable expanse of time stretching before you. — Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian Weekend, 9 September 2000
Jem Finer is an artist, musician, mathematician and award-winning composer whose works include Score for Hole in the Ground, in which underground falling water plays on hidden percussive instruments; Landscope, an inverted pylon that detected storms on Jupiter, and The Centre of the Universe, a spiral tower that ‘listened’ to the cosmos. Finer was also a founding member of The Pogues.
Images: (left) Jem Finer during the performance Longplayer Live, September 2009 at The Roundhouse. Photograph: Bruce Atherton and Jana Chiellino; (above) Jem Finer at the top of Trinity Buoy Wharf Lighthouse. Photograph: Marcia Farquhar
Who made this possible?
Longplayer was produced by Artangel with the support of the Millennium Commission and is now in the care of the Longplayer Trust. Artangel is generously supported by the private patronage of The Artangel International Circle, Special Angels and The Company of Angels.