Project 2: Time and time-based media

Exercise 1, continued: Case study – Interpreting sound – Longplayer

The screenshot below is from pp.42 of the Creative Arts Today course material (© Open College of the Arts) and provides a brief context for the work of art, Longplayer, being examined.


My first reactions to the idea of this piece, as initially described:

  • It’s big and ambitious (conceptually, physically, time-wise) and depends on a faith and trust in future generations
  • Aesthetically, I like the idea if the sound is pleasing (subjective) or at least designed for the enjoyment of most people (as opposed to cacophonic, dissonant or aggressive sounds)
  • I like that this work  will constantly evolve and bear witness to many generations (excluding the possibility that some natural or technical disaster interferes with the work’s continuation)
  • I need more information regarding process, context, motivation.
  • I feel like my ability to really spend time with and understand this piece is compromised by not being able to experience it fully, physically, sensually at its “flagship location” at the Lighthouse in Trinity Buoy Wharf, London.

I listened to a sample recording of Longplayer available free via Youtube: [accessed 28/02/17]

Words and terms that came to mind as I listened:

  • Meditative, vibrations, yoga, mysterious, deep abyss, infinite space, menacing, mesmerizing, moody, heavy, om, sounds of blackness, black hole, music of the universe, Tibetan bowls, oneness, connection, constancy, continuum, domino effect
  • an image of drops in the water and the consequent rippling outward
  • “I live my life in widening circles…” (from Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Widening Circles”)

Why has Finer chosen these particular sounds?

I don’t have a lot of knowledge about Tibetan singing bowls, but I recognized their sound immediately from yoga and meditation classes. When made to sing, these simple-looking instruments produce a gentle ringing that begins imperceptibly, softly, slowly increasing in clarity and intensity until it begins to back off again, fading out the same, gradual way it rolled in.

On the Longplayer website [accessed 28/02/17], Jem Finer states that the “preoccupations that led to [Longplayer’s] conception were not of a musical nature; they concerned time, as it is experienced and as it is understood from the perspectives of philosophy, physics, and cosmology. At extremes of scale, time has always appeared to [Finer] as baffling, both in the transience of its passing on quantum mechanical levels and in the unfathomable expanses of geological and cosmological time, in which a human lifetime is reduced to no more than a blip. “

While I can speak only anecdotally to the scientific, mathematical or physical conundrums of time, Tibetan bowls are in many ways the only instruments I can imagine being used in a piece of work ambitious enough to take those issues on.

The vibrations move sweet, slow and rippling waves of strangely calming sound energy (the term “sound energy” here seems more appropriate to me than “music,” although it’s a subjective interpretation) through a space. These sounds promote reflection, stillness, and attention to all dimensions of the present moment, at the same time as they seem to accompany the listener on a slow journey that acknowledges our existence within time.

The physical form of the singing bowls, and the way the space around them seems to hum with a music that emanates, or ripples, outward, echoes how matter “works” (or simply is). From the composition of the smallest known particles, to the way the moon orbits around the Earth, to the way Earth amidst the other planets in our solar system circle around a much larger sun, there is—according to our understanding of things—a reliable pattern of circles and cycles repeating themselves eternally within this relative concept of time.


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