The Longplayer Conversation 2019

The 2019 Longplayer Conversation brought together pioneering creative collaborators, composer Jem Finer and multidisciplinary entrepreneur Gavin Starks. This fascinating conversation was informed by their shared interests as Trustees of Longplayer and experiences around cultural change, technology and long term thinking, and was introduced by film director and producer Sophie Fiennes.

The British Library, 28 November 2019

Jem Finer is an artist, musician and composer. Since studying computer science in the 1970s, he has worked in a variety of fields, including photography, film, experimental and popular music and installation. His 1,000-year-long musical composition Longplayer represents a convergence of many of his concerns, particularly those relating to systems, sustainability, long-durational processes and extremes of scale in both time and space.

Gavin Starks helps solve complex, multidisciplinary, collective action challenges exploring the impact of data and the web on business, society and culture. He has worked across fintech, climate change, supply-chain management, modern slavery, the circular economy, digital media, telecoms, machine learning, blockchain and the internet of things. Gavin co-chaired the development of the Open Banking Standard and was founding CEO of the Open Data Institute. He is currently convening federated partnership programmes to help address the Sustainable Development Goals.

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?