Part 1. Project 2. Case Study: Interpreting sound – Longplayer

What is your initial reaction to the idea of this piece?

My initial reaction was to wonder how on earth they think that they can guarantee that something will play for 1000 years. My next reaction was to wonder why they would set this up in the first place. Is it for any substantial reason or just another act of humankind attempting to do something that will outlive them?

What do you think about the sounds in this piece?

I think the sounds are very basic, I imagine that this is to form a connection between the early music practitioners who used bowls in this way and to ensure that no matter how technology evolves the music can be continued. As the musicians on the video demonstrate, it is a music which can be created by hand.

Why do you think Finer has chosen these particular sounds?

I would take a guess that Finer chose these particular sounds because they do not form any obvious pattern or tune. It is the kind of background noise with which it is very easy to switch off and start daydreaming. Again looking at the ‘spectators’ on the video who, the longplayer website tells me’ are directed on where they may sit’ I can see that many are meditating and some are in fact asleep.

I’m really struggling with this module. The module textbook says ‘This is quite a mind blowing piece’. The internet shows me that there are legions of rabidly fanatical Longplayer fans, musicians are playing it on video with such a degree of seriousness, it was commissioned by an arts agency. Going back to Grayson Perrys Reith lectures at the beginning of the module he states a series of tests that something must pass for it to be successful art. I look at Longplayer and I see it passing these tests so I know that it must be classed as good, but for the life of me I can’t see why. If someone presented the concept of Longplayer to me on April the 1st I would put (and lose it seems) my house on it being a prank, a mad imagining of a brain addled by drugs over the course of a music career.

I understand that it’s a cool idea thinking that in decades to come people of a different generation will be listening to or maybe even still performing the composition but it’s not something that I can get all warm and fuzzy about.

Find out what site-specific means in art

Sitespecific  as found on  https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/s/site-specific

‘The term site-specific refers to a work of art designed specifically for a particular location and that has an interrelationship with the location’

Longplayer is not a site-specific installation. It is performed in various locations and is continually broadcast online. For something which Finer produced as a result of philosophical, cosmological and a physics perspective it would be wrong for the Longplayer to only have one home.

Analyse the performance of the piece, looking at how it is presented to the audience. Think about;

  • the quality of the sound used

The sound used has an ethereal quality. This echoes both backwards and forwards through time. The lack of human influence in the quality of sound produced, by which I mean they are ringing metal bowls as opposed to blowing into a woodwind instrument, ensures a consistency which may not otherwise have been achieved.

  • The choice of singing bowls

I would guess that Finer chose singing bowls as a matter of continuity. They have a long history, and with their very basic nature, should be around for years to come. There is also less room for artistic interpretation of Finers composition, less room for character. It is just a relentless clinical march of exactly what he wanted being played for the next 80 years. Another reason for the choice of singing bowls may have been for their ethereal quality, t is easy to space out or meditate when listening to their background noise.

  • the positioning of the singing bowls

The positioning of the bowls in circles reflects the circular nature of time such as the life cycle. It also physically resembles the rings of the Solar System which have long been associated with the passage of time, when shall we colonise Mars etc.

  • the positioning of the spectator

Spectators are allowed to circle the installation either around the periphery or within the rings. The rings keep reminding me o the life cycle and how humans keep rotating through it.

  • the time length of the piece

The piece is due to run for 1000 years and then it is intended that it should run again. The Longplayer site tells me that it is associated with the movement of planets, it seems that they only ever line up once every 1000 years and that Longplayer is designed to reflect this. Currently there are six pieces of music, the computer is choosing to play different parts of each piece at the same time which ensures that there will be different music with no repetitions until the next run through.

  • how the piece is performed

Players taking part in performances move within the rigs of the Longplayer set-up. This resembles a life cycle, the Solar System and the intended ongoing cycle of the Longplayer performance. Most of the time the piece is played by a computer but knowing that at some point this will become obsolete, a Trust has been established to ensure that new methods of continuing the composition are found as technology evolves.

Write a short interpretation of Longplayer

Longplayer is a 1000 year long musical composition composed by Jem Finer of The Pogues. It started playing at the turn of the millennium in 1999 and is currently officially based at a listening post in a lighthouse in Trinity Buoy Wharf London. Though performances are played in a variety of locations, in addition the whole thing is broadcast live on the Internet constantly. The Longplayer set up is of 234 singing bowls set around six concentric circles.  It is comprised of a series of six pieces of music, one for each physical circle of the composition which are all played at the same time. Each of the six pieces of music is broken down into a further si pieces/ The timing of each of the six pieces on each circle is staggered and picked at random by the computer (which usually controls the playing of the music) to ensure that nothing is repeated for a one thousand year cycle. The Longplayer composition is based on perspectives taken from physics, philosophy and cosmology as opposed to just music. The siting of the bowls in concentric circles echoes the movement of the planets. Once in a thousand years all the planets align, Circle One’s composition within the Longplayer piece takes 1000 years to complete, unlike the other circles ‘parts’ to play, it will not repeat itself. Finer has created a work which, if the Longplayer Trust is successful, will outlive generations to come.

For my research into Longplayer I used the following source;

Longplayer.org. (2019). Overview of Longplayer : Longplayer. [online] Available at: https://longplayer.org/about/overview/ [Accessed 17 Jul. 2019].

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