David Rooney listens in to Long Player – music for the next 1000 years

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David Rooney listens in to Long Player – music for the next 1000 years

Join David Rooney as he goes to the Royal Observatory’s Great Equatorial building to listen in to Long Player. Discover how this amazing piece of music will play without repeating for 1000 years and how it was composed to make us think about time into the future.

Natasha:
Hello, I’m Natasha Waterson.

David:
And I’m David Rooney, the Curator of Timekeeping here at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

Natasha:
Now today we have come to the Royal Observatory’s Great Equatorial building, which houses the 28-inch telescope, which is why it might sound a bit echoey to you all, because we are actually underneath a huge dome that can open to the sky and let people use this telescope to look to the stars.
You also might be able to hear some music in the background. But David, this is Time tales, so why have we come here?

David:
Well, the year 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. It’s 400 years since Galileo pointed a telescope upwards into the heavens to see the stars and to push back our spatial horizons to see farther.
But there’s another dimension that perhaps doesn’t get looked at in the same way, and that’s time. Telescopes are time machines. When you look into a telescope, you are looking back in time because it takes time for the light to travel into the telescope.

But the music that we are listening to hear is a conscious effort to push back our time horizons. It is a really extraordinary piece of music. It’s by Jem Finer. It’s called Long Player. And it’s a piece of music that will play continuously without repeating for a thousand years, and it’s designed to make us think farther into the future; to imagine 1000 years into the future and to imagine how our activities now might affect that period of time.

So it is trying to foster conversations, if you like, about what duration means. It’s an extraordinary piece of music and we are delighted to have it here at the Royal Observatory.

Natasha:
So how did the artist go about creating a piece of music that would never repeat over such a long period of time?

David:
Well, just at the moment, it’s created by a computer. It operates on a 20 minute original recording of Tibetan singing bowls, as it goes.
That source material then gets acted on by the algorithms in the computer, which shift it around and loop it and do all sorts of things to it to make sure that it will not repeat for 1000 years. That is its repeat cycle.

But naturally enough, a computer isn’t going to last for 1000 years, so what Jem’s thinking about now is how he can manifest the music in more concrete forms.

For instance, later on this year, in Camden in the Round House, he is going to have a live performance of 1000 minutes of long play where lots of people can get involved in recreating a piece of Long Player for that duration in a very concrete form with actual singing bowls.

So that’s going to be very exciting. And then as for the future, well, who knows? It’s going to live and it’s going to run.

Natasha:
So it’s not just playing here. Is there anywhere else it’s playing too?

David:
Yes. The original home for Long Player, the original listening post, is in a really curious part of London. It is called Trinity Buoy Wharf. It is in the Docklands in southeast London just near the East India dock.
There’s a lighthouse there. It’s where Trinity House used to make lighthouse optics and light buoys and navigation aids for Britain. Now it’s a housing for all kinds of artists and craftspeople who are doing great things.

Jem’s work is there in the lighthouse playing across the Thames. There’s other time artists there, too. Laura Williams, who is running the Aluna project to build the world’s first tidal-powered moon clock, is also based there.

That’s just going to be an extraordinary thing. It’s all about having these conversations about what time means and about reconnecting with these natural time cycles that perhaps we’ve become a little bit divorced from with the relentless advance of clocks keeping time to finer and finer intervals.

So there’s a lot going on. There’s a further project out in San Francisco, the Long Now Foundation building a clock which will run for 10,000 years. If maintained and if cared about, it will operate continuously. It is mechanical. They built the first prototype a few years ago. It’s now on show at the London Science Museum.

They’re just finishing the second prototype. They have even bought the cliff in the Nevada Desert where they’re going to hollow out a chamber to build the final version, which will be a monument that people will come to visit and start having these conversations about time.

Stewart Brand, who runs the Long Now Foundation and co-founded it, once said, ‘Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span, and some kind of balancing corrective or myth is needed.’ His clock for the Long Now is a mechanical myth that is going to get these conversations started about what time means.

Natasha:
So if our listeners want to find out more about these clocks or about the Long Player, where can they find out more?

David:
All sorts of stuff. Come and visit the Royal Observatory, and our website. Longplayer.org is the website for Jem’s work. Alunatime.org is for Laura William’s Aluna project. The Long Now Foundation is Longnow.org, as you can probably imagine.
Find out more and get involved, because this is something that affects us all and it’s just some really, really interesting projects to be involved with.

Natasha:
David, thank you very much.

David:
Thank you.

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