Articles

How to Compose a Song for 1,000 Years

by Allison Meier on August 6, 2014

Longplayer Live in 2009 (photograph by Cormac Heron, via Flickr)

“Longplayer Live” in 2009 (photo by Cormac Heron/Flickr)

In composing a song to play for 1,000 years, the variables of technology, societal upheaval, and public understanding cannot be overlooked. To assure it can always be performed, the creators of Longplayer — a digital composition that started at midnight on December 31, 1999 — are imagining a choral version for 240 voices.

Longplayer for Voices is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter to support the work’s development. “One of the challenges in composing for such durations is the question as to how to keep the music playing on into an uncertain future,” composer Jem Finer explains in the campaign video. In order to be the most adaptable, “the most elemental instrument of all — the human voice” must be incorporated into the work.

The Longplayer site offers this background about the piece, which was recorded with Tibetan singing bowls and gongs:

The composition of Longplayer results from the application of simple and precise rules to six short pieces of music. Six sections from these pieces — one from each — are playing simultaneously at all times. Longplayer chooses and combines these sections in such a way that no combination is repeated until exactly one thousand years has passed.

Graphic score for "Longplayer for Voices" from March 2014, showing early adaptations (courtesy Longplayer)

Graphic score for ‘Longplayer for Voices’ from March 2014, showing early adaptations (courtesy Longplayer)

Originally commissioned by ArtangelLongplayer has, for the past 15 years, mostly been a digital composition radiating from an old lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf on London’s East End, with public listening posts including London’s Royal Observatory and Science Museum as well as the Long Now Foundation Museum in San Francisco. (You can also tune in anytime online.) The exception was the 2009 “Longplayer Live” performance, wherein the hums of the singing bowls were transposed to London’s Roundhouse, also where a first experiment with a vocal iteration was staged this July.

When it reaches its planned launch in fall 2018, Longplayer for Voices will be 1,000 minutes, or 16 hours and 40 minutes, an epic song of layered tones much like the reverberations of the 1,000-year original. Finer — perhaps better known as a member of folk punk band The Pogues — is as much interested in the idea of how we experience time as the music itself. Similar to John Cage’s As Slow As Possible, currently being performed from 2001 to 2640 on a custom organ at St. Burchardi Church in Halberstadt, Germany, Longplayer is an experiment in how we can communicate time and engage with the future. As the Kickstarter page states, the composition “only plays on if people will it to. ”

Longplayer for Voices is crowdfunding through August 15 on Kickstarter. 

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