Exercise 1 continued: Case Study – Interpreting Sound – Longplayer:
What does the term “site-specific” mean, with reference to art?
“Site-specific art refers to a work of art designed for a particular location that has an interrelationship with the location.” (definition from the Tate website, accessed 02/03/17)
Additional notes about Longplayer:
Quality of the sound used:
- It appears that great care has been taken to ensure excellent quality of sound, and to maintain public access to that quality through numerous, controlled online sources (a paying app, live stream, radio, “listening posts” and occasional live performances at international locations).
- My own listening experiences, through Youtube and this Vimeo clip, [accessed 02/03/17] were excellent; the sound is clear and the experience of the piece (contrary to what I anticipated) uncompromised.
- Additionally, the “flagship listening post” at the Lighthouse in Trinity Buoy Wharf, London, was designed to accommodate the installation. The Longplayer site states that “[t]he steel structure, designed by Ingrid Hu, was commissioned to display and store the bowls and was installed in autumn 2012. Each tier of the structure, containing 39 bowls positioned sequentially, corresponds to one of the six concentric rings of the Longplayer Live instrument.” [accessed 04/03/17]
Choice of the singing bowls
- As described in my previous post about Longplayer, Finer’s choice of Tibetan singing bowls to create a 1000-year composition concerned with both the human experience and scientific theories of time seems almost perfect.
- Further, the site overview page states that “Longplayer’s composition uses a minimum amount of information and material to create the maximum amount of variety, in terms of both sound and form. While it is a system-based composition, it is made out of very expansive and resonant musical material, which in itself is not ‘systematic’ sounding. This material (the ‘source music’) is played on Tibetan singing bowls, which possess a simple but harmonically rich sound, and a quality which is at once both physical and ethereal. A simple form of synthesis arises from the interactions of these instruments’ waveforms, with the consequence that while Longplayer’s score is deterministic, its music at any given time is unpredictable.” [accessed 05/03/17]
Positioning of the bowls
- The bowls are positioned along concentric rings radiating out from a centrepiece.
- There are what appear to be live performance “stations” on each ring. The spacing of the bowls appears to be asymmetrical; I suppose there is some mathematical logic to this.
- The positioning of the bowls, as seen in this Vimeo extract [accessed 05/03/17], echoes the circular form of the bowls themselves, but also the composition of small and large-scale forms found in nature: particles, nautilus shells, the solar system.
Positioning of the spectator
- The positioning of the spectator depends on how s/he interacts with the piece.
- Physically-present spectators are welcome to contemplate Longplayer from its structural edge and are encouraged to sit with the piece.
- In video documentation of the work, it appears that visitors take advantage of the opportunity to meditate and really spend time contemplating the piece.
- While the piece seems to encourage reflection and a kind of intellectual and/or spiritual participation, it also seems to make a point of distancing the spectator from the more physical elements of the piece. I think the point is to zoom out intellectually, and getting too physically close to the structure of the piece could distract from that.
- Similarly, most videos about/sampling Longplayer (for “distance” spectators) emphasize the importance of perspective by being filmed from above, or using what appears to be a fish-eye camera lens. The bowls are placed like tiny dots on larger concentric circles, any “live” musicians appear as tiny ants, and time-lapse effects acknowledge the passage of time through changes in natural light and shadow.
- Longplayer is also accessible strictly as an aural experience, through streaming or the app, in which case the spectator/listener is free to “position” themselves as they wish.
The time length of the piece
- Finer explains that he came up with the concept of a 1000-year musical composition as a way to grapple with the idea of a millennium, which seemed conceptually inaccessible to him. Similarly, videos and live performances stay rooted in the concept of time by sticking with denominations of 1000 (see this video, accessed 04/03/2017, of a 1000-second live recording, for example).
- I think it’s an effective distancing technique: we don’t typically think of periods of time in terms of seconds unless it’s less than a minute. Trying to conceptualize what 1000 seconds represents forces us to refresh our thinking about time.
How the piece is performed
- The piece is currently performed mostly by computers, with punctual live performances scheduled at both the London location and an expanding list of international “listening posts”.
- For me, what’s more interesting than how the piece is currently performed, however, is how the Longplayer “team” (Finer, Artangel and many others) has designed the piece to endure many human lifetimes. Inevitably, the technology responsible for Longplayer’s continued play will be obsolete long before it’s run its thousand-year course. While I get lost in the technical and mathematical details of Longplayer’s composition, the piece ultimately, and willingly, depends on the Longplayer Trust, and a multi-generational community of listeners for its continued performance.
- The “performance” of this piece is in many ways informed by all the conversations, thinking and writing it generates. A chain-like series of letters and diverse philosophical texts related to the piece reflect its almost infinite nature and speaks also to how humans can, in a sense, exist outside of time.