Project 2: Time and time-based media

Exercise 1 continued: Jem Finer’s Longplayer, a written interpretation

Jem Finer’s Longplayer is a 1000-year musical composition that examines our relationship to time. The installation is based in London but the music it produces is accessible worldwide.

The composition was written for singing bowls which can be played by both humans and, in the case of Longplayer, computers. Individually, the bowls produce a soft, harmonious ringing that begins imperceptibly and slowly increases in clarity and intensity until it gradually fades out again.

In my own experience, these bowls are used as props during yoga, meditation or alternative healing rituals. Their music is said to echo the sound of the void, or the ongoing “OM” of the Universe. Sound necessarily takes place within time, but time, according to many spiritual traditions, is also said to have begun with, or as, sound.

To experience Longplayer, the spectator or (more commonly) listener, is invited simply to sit and contemplate its sound. The bowls’ sonorous vibrations makes us feel like small, insignificant blips simultaneously and deeply connected to something vast and quivering with vital spiritual energy. The work’s physical form echoes this: concentric circles recalling both the form of microscopic particles and our much larger solar system.

The knowledge that this piece is designed to evolve across many human lifetimes—and so depends on the willingness of several generations to communicate and cooperate to ensure its survival—encourages a meditation on the relative brevity of our time on earth at the same time as reflecting on our participation in, connection and ultimate oneness with a pulsing, expanding system: the universe.

Individual lives are short but our impact—as Longplayer intends to bear witness to—carries on in ways we should try to imagine.

Resources:

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