Case Study Interpreting sound – Longplayer

longplayer

Initial Reaction

I am immediately drawn to this idea of a composition with a long-term scheduled date. I can see that the piece is formed by a repetition of circles and that each of the six rings has a small table with instruments and what I assume are musicians. It is placed in a large round space that probably has very good acoustics and the public stands or sits on the floor around it.

I can conclude that this piece is art because it is a musical composition, it is a performance because there is music being performed (live at times), it is time-based because it has an established duration and depends on technology, and is an installation because it is a three-dimensional piece transforming a space.

I think the form of the piece, circles contained within circles, is gaining strength from symbols; circles are often used to symbolise unity, the sun and planets, protection, perfection, clocks, etc.

Listening to the piece, I feel that it is well connected to my first impressions of it. The sounds immediately give me a sense of spirituality and meditation, of reverberation and repetition, calmness and timelessness, maybe even a reference to religious rituals. I think Finer chose these sounds precisely because of what they make us feel. His intention being that the piece last a thousand years, the sounds chosen have to be able to outlast many generations. I feel like I can listen to it for a long time and not get tired of it, due to its homogeneity and lack of climax.

Site-specific

In art, site-specific refers to a work of art that is designed for a specific location and may lose its meaning if removed from that location. (Tate.org.uk, 2016)

Analysis

The quality of the sound for me is really good. I am listening to the piece while I research and write about it, and I can’t stop thinking about how beautiful it actually is. A big part of the reason why I find it so beautiful is exactly because of its connection to time. The music itself could really belong to any tibetan meditation track, but the fact that I know that this is intended to play for 1000 years and will very likely outlive the creator of it and myself makes it somehow special.

The public stands or sits around the piece and can walk around it in a 360˚ view. The space itself, the lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf, London, is also circular. The piece as well as the space continually reflect the concept of circularity, unity and the solar system.

The sounds are created by Tibetan singing bowls, a simple yet incredibly harmonic instrument commonly used in meditation. Most of the actual work in Longplayer is done by computers but is not limited to it, since the bowls can also be played by humans. I think the main advantages of using singing bowls is that they don’t rely on technology for their sound, each individual handmade bowl can create a large range of unique tones, are of easier maintenance and creation than most instruments, visually they add to the circularity of the piece, and of course their sounds are very apt in relation to the context.

As I had previously observed, Longplayer is made up concentrically, meaning that there is one center surrounded by larger circles. The bowls, themselves round, are placed along the rings. There are six sections of music, one corresponding to each ring, playing at the same time and forming different combinations so that no combination is repeated until the 1000-year period ends. Each ring plays for a duration of two minutes, but since each ring has a different circumference, the rings will be at different positions and will be completing their respective pieces at different rates. Like our solar system and our clocks, the shortest orbit (say Mercury or the second hand) will complete its orbit faster than the largest orbit (Neptune or the hour hand).

Interpretation

I think that Longplayer is a piece constructed with careful attention given to concept, form, and visual and musical harmony. All this combines to illustrate, via sound, how time moves. The piece is constructed based on our solar system and it is possible to observe how the sounds are orbiting through time as each musical piece moves around its respective ring. Finer is ambitious in wanting to consciously create something that lasts 1000 years, a quantity of time that appears to us as extremely long and difficult to think about.

Ultimately, our perception of time is very subjective because our measurements of time (a human lifetime, hours, minutes, an art movement) are very limited compared to the unknown infinity of the universe. By giving us a carefully calculated musical composition with a set duration, Longplayer shows us that 1000 years is not really that long a time when you place it outside of a human lifetime or generation.

It is a piece that also speaks to me about human history because it reflects how we have maintained strong traditions (religion, culture, art) even as generations end, evolve and are replaced. Even though I know that I won’t be able to hear the end of this musical composition, I still have a stubborn hope that a future generation will and that they’ll be working to overcome whatever technological, social and environmental challenges arise during this lapse of time.


Bibliography

Longplayer.org. (2016). Longplayer. [online] At: http://longplayer.org (Accessed on 7 December 2016)

Tate (2016). Site-specific. [online] At: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/s/site-specific (Accessed on 7 December 2016)

Documentally, (2009). LongPlayer Live. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhEI3FEvxU0 (Accessed on 7 December 2016)

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