Longplayer is a cyclical composition for singing bowls that lasts a thousand years. The piece started playing on 31 December 1999 at midnight, and – if all goes well – will complete its cycle on the last second of the year 2999. The work, conceived and composed by Jem Finer, can be heard as an electronic sound installation at listening posts in London and San Francisco, as well as via a live-stream and app. For this edition of the Holland Festival, Longplayer can be experienced in the tower of the Lloyd Hotel, with a magnificent 360 view of Amsterdam. One person may enter for half an hour. The meditative sound of the singing bowls never repeats. Longplayer brings together ancient instruments and modern technology in a work that encourages you to contemplate time and life.
While it found form as a musical composition, Longplayer can also be understood as a living, 1000-year-long process. Longplayer, conceived and composed by Jem Finer, is an artificial life form
programmed to seek its own survival strategies.
Jem Finer says: ‘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 is composed in such a way that its music changes from day to day and ‒ though it is beyond the reach of any one person’s experience ‒ from century to century. It works in a way somewhat akin to a system of planets, which are aligned only once every thousand years, and whose orbits meanwhile move in and out of phase with each other. In a similar way, Longplayer is predetermined from beginning to end ‒ its movements are calculable, but are occurring on a scale so vast as to be all but unknowable.
Longplayer’s composition uses a minimum amount of information and material to create the maximum amount of variety, in terms of both sound and form. While it is a system-based composition, it is made out of very expansive and resonant musical material, which in itself is not systematic’ sounding. This material (the ‘source music’) is played on singing bowls, which possess a simple but harmonically rich sound, and a quality which is at once both physical and ethereal.
Implicit in Longplayerʼs composition is the ability for it to be performed by any technology, a necessity given its duration and the futureʼs unpredictability. For the first 15 years, Longplayer was played mostly by computers and in June 2015 an iOS app was released on the iTunes store introducing a new way to listen to Longplayer, anywhere, at any time and without the need for a data connection. This 'Amsterdam' version is also played through a computer and a surround speaker setup.
However, Longplayer was created with a full awareness of the inevitable obsolescence of this technology, and is not in itself bound to the computer or any other technological form. Although computer devices are a cheap and accurate way in which Longplayer can play, it is important ‒ in order to legislate for its survival ‒ that a medium outside the digital realm be found. To this end, one objective has been to research alternative methods of performance, including mechanical, non-electrical and human-operated versions. Among these is a graphical score for six players and 234 singing bowls. The first performance based on this score took place over 1,000 minutes on 12 ‒ 13 September, 2009, at the Roundhouse, London.
During the Holland Festival, Longplayer can be experienced by one person at a time in the tower of the Lloyd Hotel, a place that is normally inaccessible to visitors.
Jem Finer is a UK-based musician and composer. Since studying computer science, he has worked in a variety of fields, including photography, film, music and installation. His 1000 year long
musical composition, Longplayer, represents a convergence of many of his concerns, particularly those relating to systems, long-durational processes and extremes of scale in both time and space. Among his other works is Score For a Hole In the Ground, a permanent, selfsustaining musical installation in a forest in Kent which relies only on gravity and the elements to be audible. Between 2003 and 2005 he was artist in residence in the astrophysics department of Oxford University, making a number of works including two sculptural observatories, Landscope and The Centre of the Universe. During a year-long residency at the ICIA (University of Bath), he developed Mobile Sinfonia, an indeterminate musical composition scored for mobile phones and propagated globally through the free distribution of ringtones. Recent work, focusing on his interest in long-term sustainability and the reconfiguring of older technologies, includes Spiegelei, a 360-degree spherical camera obscura and Supercomputer, a sculptural machine composing minimal musical scores that opened in Cambridge in June 2014. A new film installation, 51º 30’ 44” N, 0º 0’ 38″ E, was shown in 2016 at the Whitstable Biennial and the Estuary Festival. He has written and recorded a number of film soundtracks.
- Jem Finer
- concept, music
- in cooperation with
- Slow Research Lab, STEIM, Lloyd Hotel, Holland Festival