Sonic Ray

Jem Finer

River Thames
30 September 2021 - 21 November 2021

A powerful beam of light projected the sound of Longplayer, a 1000-year long musical composition, across the river Thames.

Sonic Ray encoded the sound of Longplayer into the light source and transmitted it at the speed of light from the Faraday lighthouse on Trinity Buoy Wharf, to the opposite bank of the river, creating a new temporary listening post aboard Richard Wilson’s nautical sculpture Slice of Reality, on the Greenwich peninsula foreshore. A short ferry ride connected the two locations, allowing visitors to experience Longplayer as a bridge of light across the Thames. All viewing sessions took place after dark, from dusk until late.

Video: Sonic Ray. View from Richard Wilson's Slice of Reality. Videography: Ibrahim Serra-Mohammed and Ascension Films. 

About Jem Finer

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Jem Finer

Jem Finer first collaborated with Artangel on Longplayer, a one-thousand-year-long musical composition that began playing at midnight on 31 December 1999. This collaboration has continued throughout the years marked by events including Longplayer Live 2009, the ongoing Longplayer Conversations series, and, most recently, with the Longplayer Assembly.

Known as an artist and musician, Finer is also an award-winning composer. His works include 'Score for Hole in the Ground' in which underground falling water plays on hidden percussive instruments. Meanwhile 'The Centre of the Universe' is a radio observatory of sorts,  reimagined as a drawing machine and supercomputer, likened to a composing machine where the flow of ball bearings, carrying information through labyrinthine circuits of mechanical computational units, were used to calculate minimal melodic phrases.

A photo of artist Jem Finer wearing a printer navy collar shirt taken from the chest up

Images: (left) Jem Finer at the private view of Sonic Ray. Photograph: Ibrahim Serra-Mohammed and Ascension Films; (above) Jem Finer, 2020.

Talk: Jem Finer in conversation with Richard Wilson

1 hour 22 mins and 25 seconds
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Jem Finer in conversation with Richard Wilson

Artist and musician Jem Finer was joined in conversation by sculptor Richard Wilson to discuss collaboration, reflecting on their projects – Finer on Longplayer and Wilson on A Slice of Reality – both commissioned on opposite sides of the Thames in the year 2000.

Twenty-one years later, this talk marked Artangel's commission of Sonic Ray – an artistic installation that reconnected both projects, encoding the sound of Longplayer in a line of light, beamed across the river, to Wilson's wheel-house.

This event took place in person at 19:00 GMT on Tuesday 9 November 2021 at Swedenborg House, London. Following the conversation, both Finer and Wilson answered a series of questions asked by a live audience.

Image: Sonic Ray. View from Richard Wilson's Slice of Reality, 2020. Photograph: Ibrahim Serra-Mohammed and Ascension Films.


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How do you send a piece of music through a laser beam? – Nancy Durrant, Evening Standard

Selected Press

It’s a spectacular intervention and shows a level of ambition that we’ve come to expect from Artangel interventions. – Tabish Khan, FAD magazine, 24 October 2021

The distance from north Slice is less than a kilometer, but of course, the speed of light being what it is, the relay is basically instantaneous, so you and someone in Lighthouse hear Longplayer at the same moment. – Nancy Durrant, Evening Standard, 27 September 2021

Longplayer grew out of a conceptual concern with questions of representing and understanding the expansiveness of time. Its music changes from day to day, from century to century, conceived to endure and adapt to shifts in the technological and social environment. – Artlyst, 30 September 2021

London's only lighthouse — at Trinity Buoy Wharf near Canning Town — will emit a beam, for the first time since it closed for duty in the late 19th century. – Will Noble, Londonist, 15 September 2021 

Over 20 years, says Finer, “my concern has shifted from how to keep Longplayer going to how you keep the world going so there’s somewhere you can listen to it. I feel Longplayer should address that in some way, without having any illusions that it’s going to save the world.” – Claire Armitstead, The Guardian, 22 September 2020

This will be a beam of light, with the music encoded in it, projected across the river from the lighthouse to Richard Wilson’s sculpture A Slice of Reality, the sliced section of an 800 ton sand redger. A ferry will connect the two. – Bryan Appleyard, The Times, 20 September 2020


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At Artangel, we're keen to find out what our audiences think of our work to learn what we can do to adapt the experience, format and subject matter of future projects – ensuring our continued relevancy for the communities we serve. Your honest feedback is invaluable to us as an organisation.

This short survey about your experience at Sonic Ray should take you just over 5 minutes to complete.

To thank you for your time, you will see a prompt at the end of the survey where you can select to be entered into a prize draw for a £50 M&S voucher. The winner will be selected on 6 December 2021.

Take the survey

Image: View of Sonic Ray from Richard Wilson's A Slice of Reality. Photograph: Ibrahim Serra-Mohammed and Ascension Films.


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Who made this possible?


Sonic Ray is a new project by Jem Finer. Commissioned and produced by Artangel.

Supported by the Trinity Buoy Wharf Trust. Presented as part of the Totally Thames Festival 2020. 

With particular thanks to Kieran O'Keeffe and a Special Angel who prefers to remain anonymous.

Artangel is generously supported using public funding by Arts Council England, and by the private patronage of The Artangel International CircleSpecial Angels and The Company of Angels. 

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