The power of music to bring together, bolster and care for communities is widely known, however, is it possible for a single song to create a community that spans not just a single generation, but a hundred or even a thousand? Longplayer is aiming to do just this.
Started at midnight on the 31st December 1999, Longplayer is a 1000 yearlong musical composition that will play without interruption or repetition until 2999. The composition is conducted by a computer and played mechanically through 234 Tibetan singing bowls.
Longplayer was developed and composed by British musician and artist Jem Finer between 1995 and 1999 and was supported by London based arts organisation, Artangel. The driving force behind the project is Jem Finer’s interest in the individual perception of time.
Finer found that ‘In the mid 1990s, as the year 2000 approached, I started to wonder about how to make sense of a millennium – that is, how to render as sensible or tangible the great span of one thousand years, not so long in cosmic terms but sufficiently longer than a human lifetime – and how to possibly focus the mind on time as a longer and slower process than the frenetic jump-cut pace of the late 20th Century.’
This project encourages the individual to look beyond their immediate time and to contemplate their position in the community of the human race as a whole (both those who have past and those who are to come).
The musical composition itself is constructed by six continuous musical patterns that are played on top of each other. Their individual harmonies and rhythms interact and change what can be heard each day, month, year and century. ‘It works in a way somewhat akin to a system of planets, which are aligned only once every thousand years,’ Finer explains.
Questions about the sustainability of the piece have led to the establishment of the Longplayer Trust. The Trust consists of individuals who are dedicated to the maintenance and research needed to ensure that Longplayer is passed onto, and sustained by, the next generation. In this sense, the Trust ensures that Longplayer is not just another musical composition but, as they explain, ‘a social organism, depending on people for its survival and existing as a community of listeners across centuries. Today, we can listen into it for intimidations of the distant future, just as future listeners will someday listen in for echoes of us. By listening to LongPlayer, you become part of this long and hopeful continuum.’
In order to keep the Tebitan bowls singing, the Longplayer Trust encourages donations. These donations help support the daily running cost of £100 and the conduction of research into future forms of the Longplayer. By sponsoring a bowl, you can have a word of your choice engrained into one of the 234 bowls. You can also help by ‘buying time’. You can select a day and underwrite the music played by the Tebitan bowls within the selected 24 hours.
As explained by the Trust, the magic behind the Longplayer is that ‘If you can hear it now, you are sharing an experience with listeners who will not draw their first breath for more than 950 years’.
It is both humbling and reassuring to think beyond our own troubled times to a project that will be passed on and sustained throughout the next millennium. Longplayer proves the unlimited power of music, not only to care for local communities but the human race as a whole.
The video below shows the first ‘Longplayer Live ’performed at the Roundhouse Camden 12-13th September 2009. The composition is played by musicians as opposed to a computer.