Longplayer is designed to play for a thousand years, which means the composition must outlast technology and catastrophes, and be carried on by generations not yet born. The Longplayer Trust announced last Saturday an iOS app that independently plays the music in time with the London lighthouse where it started on December 31, 1999.
Created by Jem Finer, an artist and musician who was a founding member of The Pogues, and initially commissioned by arts organization Artangel, the digital composition considers how we experience deep time. Whether you tune in to the Tibetan song bowl ringing of Longplayer at the Trinity Buoy Wharf lighthouse, listening stations at Royal Observatory, Greenwich, and the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco, online, or now for the first time on your iPhone, the moment you are hearing is distinct in the planned centuries of music. The app was designed in collaboration with sound artist Daniel Jones as the first standalone version of Longplayer.
The rules of Longplayer are basic, with six sections of reverberating tonal music that are represented in the app with concentric loops. Yellow bars mark what is currently playing, while brown circles represent the 39 Tibetan song bowls initially recorded for the composition, and blue waveforms symbolize volume. Every two minutes a new starting point is calculated with selections and speeds from each of the six pieces. In all 1,000 years, there will not be a repeat of these combinations. The app initially seems rather simple with the view of the song bowl orbits, yet it is actually generating this music itself, meaning you don’t need to be connected to the internet or any data plan, and as long as your iPhone lives, Longplayer survives with it.
“It will always play in time with all the other instances of Longplayer, through reference to the current time and date,” the app explains. “The app literally performs the music, creating it from instant to instant, through the program’s score acting on recordings of singing bowls.”
Finer told the Guardian, if “you’re going to make a piece of music which lasts more than five or 10 years … you have to deal with how cultural attitudes to sound and music change” and that “Longplayer’s best strategy is for people to want it to exist.” The Longplayer Trust is devoted to this endurance, and last year a crowdfunding campaign supported a choral version for 240 voices, so that Longplayer would not be dependent on the computer program that was initially designed for the music. There are other plans for a dedicated global radio frequency or a mechanical device, which are explored in included information on the app.
Music can be a powerful way to engage with time in a way we don’t often perceive, whether John Cage’s “As Slow as Possible” which is playing from 2001 to 2640 on a specially-designed organ in Halberstadt, Germany, or Stephen Vitiello’s “A Bell for Every Minute” which collected bells from around New York City for a one-hour piece. Until the last minute of 2999, Longplayer will measure that distance in meditative sound. And at that final moment, it will return to its beginning, and, if there are people to continue it, start all over again.
The Longplayer iOS app is available on iTunes.
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