The Longplayer Conversation 2016

The 2016 Longplayer Conversation, between Marina Warner and Ali Smith, took place on Wednesday 23rd November 2016 at the Anatomy Lecture Theatre, King’s College, London WC2.

Ali Smith and Marina Warner
[Christian Payne]

Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962 and lives in Cambridge. She is a writer of novels, short stories, plays, and criticism. Her novel, How To Be Both, was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize and the Folio Prize and won the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, Goldsmiths Prize, and the Costa Novel Award. Her story collection Public Library and Other Stories was released in November 2015, while her new novel, Autumn, was published by Penguin Hamish Hamilton in October.

Marina Warner DBE, FBA, is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Birkbeck College, and a Professorial Research Fellow, SOAS. Her books include Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary (1976), and Monuments & Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form (1988). In 1994 she gave the BBC Reith Lectures on the theme of Six Myths of Our Time. Her study of the Thousand and One Nights, Stranger Magic: Charmed States and The Arabian Nights (2011) was awarded a Sheykh Zayed Prize in 2012, a National Book Critics Circle Award and the Truman Capote Prize. She has curated exhibitions, including The Inner Eye (1996), Metamorphing (2002-3), and Only Make-Believe: Ways of Playing (2005). She was awarded the Holberg Prize in the Arts and Humanities in 2015. She is currently working on the theme of Sanctuary and culture in times of dislocation and diaspora, as well as on a memoir-novel about her childhood in Egypt.

More about Longplayer

Overview of Longplayer

Longplayer is a one thousand year long musical composition. It began playing at midnight on the 31st of December 1999, and will continue to play without repetition until the last moment of 2999, at which point it will complete its cycle and begin again. Conceived and composed by Jem Finer, it was originally produced as an Artangel commission, and is now in the care of the Longplayer Trust.

Conceptual Background

While Longplayer is most often described as a 1000 year long musical composition, the preoccupations that led to its 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 me 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.

How does Longplayer work?

The composition of Longplayer results from the application of simple and precise rules to six short pieces of music. Six sections from these pieces – one from each – are playing simultaneously at all times. Longplayer chooses and combines these sections in such a way that no combination is repeated until exactly one thousand years has passed.

About Longplayer's Survival

From its initial conception, a central part of the Longplayer project has been about considering strategies for the future. How does one keep a piece of music playing across generations? How does one prepare for its technological adaptability, knowing how few technologies have remained viable over the last millenium? How does one legislate for its upkeep? And how can one communicate that responsibility to those who might be looking after it some 950 years after its original custodians have perished?