7 October 02003

Longplayer: 1,000 Year Composition

The Dome from across the Thames This picture was taken last Saturday, when I visited the Trinity Buoy Wharf lighthouse to see Jem Finer's Longplayer. Since then, the Longplayer web site has been overhauled, and the message about the funding of the project prompts me to explain why I think you should visit and/or donate funds, as I have done.

I first heard the idea of making music for 'the big here and the long now' from — you guessed it — Brian Eno. That phrase is intended to conjure a way of seeing ourselves beyond the confines of parochial concerns and short attention spans. Some of Eno's chums decided to do something about this, since cultural re-engineering is very much the bag of people like Stewart Brand and Bruce Sterling (you can just imagine the dinner party where this was conceived, can't you?), and they established the Long Now Foundation. You can spot a citizen of the Long Now by the way they write their dates, with a leading 0 on the year — as in 02003 — to remind us that the two millenia in what people like Julian Cope refer to as the 'Common Era' are just the blink of an eye in the big picture. I'd do this myself on this site if I could only work out how to hack the Movable Type code to do it! [Update: I eventually figured that out.]

The main project of the Long Now Foundation is the building of a 10,000 year clock, and a prototype of this has been on display in the Science Museum in London.

Going back to Longplayer, Jem Finer's composition may last only a measly 1,000 years, but that's no reason to delay paying it a visit. The location is touched by magic: surrounded almost completely by water, there's a real feeling of the old Thames among the warehouses that are slowly being 'regenerated'. And the water keeps both the dome and the bijou apartments that ring Canary Wharf at a safe psychological distance. There's a bird sanctuary in East India dock. And while I was walking around mid-afternoon, I rarely saw another soul.

The instrumentation of Longplayer, like Eno's sister piece, is based around a kind of bell (actually Tibetan singing bowls), though currently these have been sampled and are then played back in series of loops of differing durations. This means that the music never repeats exactly for a thousand years. The playback is controlled using SuperCollider, about which I'll be writing more on this site in coming months, since I'm currently doing a course on it. Here is Jem Finer's full explanation of the music.

I did wonder, when visiting, how even a trusty old iMac could be kept going continuously and reliably for 1,000 years. Now that the site has been updated, it includes contingency plans for other means of keeping it going. Go on, give your support so that the music doesn't stop.

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Cultural Calendar, Long Now, Music and Multimedia on 7 October 02003 | TrackBack

I've found an interview with Jem Finer where he describes the process behind the Longplayer composition, and you can hear the music in the background. The 5 minute piece can be accessed as a RealPlayer stream via this BBC Radio 4 Front Row page (near the bottom).

Posted by: David Jennings on 11 October 02003 at 1:10 AM

I wonder if there should be a verbal equivalent whereby the word is preceded by a 'O'.

This would remind people of the oral tradition which many say is in danger of being lost - similarly placing the word in a broader context.

Obvious examples might be 'oshit', 'obollocks'.

My favourite would be 'ono' (no disrespect to Yoko).

Posted by: Jeremy on 20 January 02005 at 12:43 PM
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