Longplayer: Music for 1000 Years

We won’t be around to hear the end of it. Neither will the next 20+ generations of our families. But whoever is alive in the last seconds of the year 2999 will hear the final moments of Longplayer. And then, if all continues to go well, the 1000 year long loop of music will start all over again.

What’s truly amazing, in addition to the duration of the music, is that it never repeats. Each of the six short pieces of music that make up Longplayer begins from a different starting point. A section from each piece of music plays simultaneously with all other pieces. The music plays for two minutes. Different lengths of time are then added to the previous starting points of each piece and the music continues.

Tibetan singing bowls are the instruments of choice.  The bowls are harmonic, resonant, ethereal-sounding, and their sounds reproduces well on recording equipment. Here’s what they sound like:

A Lifelong Fascination with Time

The UK-based composer of Longplayer is Jem Finer.

Longplayer Live showing the 6 concentric rings
Photo credit: Documentally via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

His composition is an attempt to represent huge scales of time, from the crawl of a glacier to the sweep of a minute hand. Six concentric circles represents the two minutes of music that are playing in each of the six pieces at any given moment in time. Each section advances at a different rate of change. The advance of the third circle is so small that it will take the full thousand years to travel once through the music. In contrast, the second circle progresses through the music every 3.7 days. You can watch the concentric circles image update every two minutes.

Keep the Music Playing

Right now, a computer is doing the combining, but Longplayer isn’t dependent on computers. Technology is changing so quickly that computers may not be around for the rest of our lifetimes, never mind the next 984 years. A live version consists of a graphic score written for an orchestra working in shifts of six players, playing 234 Tibetan singing bowls. Mechanical and non-electrical methods of performance are being investigated.

The Longplayer Trust is a group of people charged with the task of keeping the music playing. It’s their job to seek solutions for the inevitable and unknowable technological and social changes of the future, and to inspire future generations to pick up and carry the torch in this 1000 year long relay.

Where You Can Hear Longplayer

There are many options for listening to Longplayer: an excerpt on Soundcloud; an app on the iTunes store;  listening stations around the world, or streamed live on the Internet from its home in an old lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf, London.

The scope of this work boggles the mind. If you were a member of the Longplayer Trust what do you imagine would need to be considered to ensure that this work will continue to play for the next nine centuries? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

5 comments

  1. Wow, that is amazing! 1,000 years only to begin again. I like the sound of it but signing on to be a member of that project just boggles the mind; the responsibility for even your part in it would require a commitment of time that I would not want to make. =) Great article Karen…you find the most fascinating topics for these WOW Notes. 😉

  2. Thanks, Susan. I’m loving searching out these Wow notes topics. The idea for this one came from a new book titled Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders.

  3. Thanks for the info Karen. That sounds like a great book…I will have to look that one up at the library. If that is one of the world’s hidden wonders I am really interested in seeing what else is in that book. =)

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