So, how long is the longest piece of music you’ve ever written ?
5 minutes ?
7 minutes ?
Maybe, if you’re Partial To A Little Prog like me, a 40-minute concept album ?
Or if you write classical music, you might have written something that takes several hours to perform.
But how would you feel about writing a piece of music that lasts a thousand years ?
That’s how long “Longplayer” is – or at least, how long it will be eventually.
I’m listening to the live stream, here, and as I’m typing this, it’s been playing continuously for 14 years, 195 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 47 seconds, without repetition.
So what does it sound like ?
Composed by Jem Finer, Longplayer is written for 6 tibetan “singing bowls” – six simultaneous excerpts from six different pieces, selected so that the patterns they form will only repeat once every thousand years. These patterns are inspired by the orbits of the planets in our solar system, and the piece itself can be performed by machines, humans or possibly “something else” (that we haven’t imagined yet) in the future.
It’s beautiful, calming, meditative, hypnotic, repetitious and strange.
(Read more about exactly how the piece works and is performed here)
What happens after the thousand years are over ?
It starts all over again.
At least, that’s the idea – but we’ll never know ! We’ll be long dead by then – how will it be played ? Who (or what) will be playing it ? Will anyone still be listening ?
This is what I love about the epic scale and ambition of this project. Within minutes of getting to grips with the idea behind Longplayer, you can’t help but begin to think about the practicalities, the difficulties and the challenges of sustaining the performance – and suddenly you’re thinking about far bigger time intervals than we’re used to, in our on-demand obsessed, just-in-time 21st century lifestyle.
And once you’re thinking about music that lasts a millenia and how to keep playing it, before long you’re also thinking about much wider issues like environmental sustainability, social responsibility and the legacy we leave our children, as Brian Eno wrote in his amazing letter as part of a long chain conversation about the project earlier this year.
Which is amazing and unique, I think – there are so many musicians and pieces of music concerned with Big Ideas like these, but rather than risking falling short of conveying the concerns behind it with trite or obscure lyrics, Longplayer somehow manages to bring it all this home – just by existing in the first place.
I strongly recommend checking out the excellent website to dig deeper into everything Longplayer – but it’s already been playing over 14 years – why am I writing this post now ? The answer is…
Right here, right now – Longplayer for Voices
Longplayer had it’s first live performance at The Roundhouse in 2009 – a 1000-minute extract performed on 234 singing bowls by 26 players contributing in shifts – and has had two more performances since, but is about to enter a fascinating new phase – Longplayer for Voices – and give you the chance to get involved at the same time.
The ambitious plan is to mount a live performance in August 2018 – another 1000-minute-long extract from the full piece, but this time arranged for 240 human voices by composer Jem Finer, along with Peter Broadbent and Orlando Gough.
The Longplayer Trust has launched a Kickstarter campaign to try and raise funds for the project, with a 1000-second “preview” of how the piece may eventually sound being performed at the Roundhouse last Saturday – here are some edited extracts.
I think this is a great idea – if I have one criticism of Longplayer as a composition it’s that the sound of the singing bowls can feel too intellectual or abstract to make for a truly involving piece of music – involving live performers and real instruments could really help bridge that gap.
Judging by the preview and people’s reaction to it, that’s certainly the case already, and I’ll be watching with interest to see how the project develops – for a long time into the future.
If you’d like to get involved and support Longplayer For Voices, you can get more information and sign up for the Kickstarter here.