September 22, 2020
Longplayer is a millennium-long composition by Jem Finer that harnesses the sound of Tibetan singing bowls. But, as it turns 20, the Pogues star is wondering how it can make it to the year 3000
Only 980 years to go! Parties and fears as 1,000-year-long piece of music turns 20
On the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve 1999, an eerie music began to ring out across east London from an old lighthouse on the Thames. Though you wouldn’t have guessed from the widely spaced notes, it was composed by Jem Finer, best known as co-creator of the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York. In ambition as well as tempo, Longplayer could hardly be more different from the rackety Christmas perennial. Harnessing the pure sound of Tibetan singing bowls, this new composition was programmed to run for 1,000 years without ever repeating itself.
Two decades on, Finer chuckles at his own presumption. When he was devising the project in the late 90s, he says, he hadn’t understood the real challenge, which was that such a long-term project is only as good as the structures devised to look after it, keeping it relevant to a fast-changing world and up to date with a technological revolution that has swept us from the infancy of the internet to the hyper-connected world in which we now live. “If nobody is interested, or there is no way of playing it, it will no longer exist,” he says. But so far, so good. Two decades on, Longplayer still rings out from the lighthouse. It also has its own app, which plays it around the clock in real time, and listening posts in Yorkshire and San Francisco. Or as Finer puts it: “It now has a history as well as a future.”
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