The method of Longplayer’s composition can be regarded as an algorithm whose variables may be changed to create any number of new compositions. In this sense, Longplayer is itself just one of these possible compositions, its title referring directly to its own extreme duration. Conversely, there exist a number of possible compositions in which Longplayer’s variables are adjusted so that a composition might last only a very short time – an hour, for instance. Shortplayer is the generic name for these possible short-durational compositions, which can be arranged for any group or combination of instruments and/or voices.
For three months, Wood Street Galleries in Pittsburgh hosted a Longplayer listening post. The opening night, 1 October 2010, saw the world premiere of Shortplayer #1, the first of a new series of compositions by Jem Finer.
Shortplayer #1 is an hour-long composition for 7 brass and reed players based on the compositional principals of Longplayer.
At Wood Street Galleries, the Shortplayer ensemble consisted of:
Roger Day (tuba)
Roger Dannenberg (trumpet)
Jem Finer (trumpet)
Mark Fromm (baritone sax)
Brandon Masterman (soprano sax)
Ben Opie (alto sax)
Lou Stellute (tenor sax)
David Bernabo (musical director)
Thanks to Justin Hopper (without whom Longplayer may never have gone to Pittsburgh), Murray Horne and everyone at Wood Street Galleries.
Excerpt . . .
Shortplayer #2, Shortplayer for 7 Guitars, took place on the 23rd November 2014 at the Feelgood Cafe, Chalkwell Hall, in Southend.
The performance featured:
Mark Cunningham (bass)
Thanks to Sean McLoughlin, Colette Bailey and Justin Hopper.
Shortplayer #3 is 14 minutes and 30 seconds long, and the instrumentation comprises two tones, a bleep, a piano chord, a piano note, three voices singing a singing bowl and a couple of tuning forks.
Performed by Jem Finer, with thanks to Olivia Chaney for singing the singing bowl.
Shortplayer #4 was performed on Wednesday 23rd May 2018 in St Martin’s Church, Exeter, as part of Art Week Exeter 2018.
Shortplayer #4 was realised, according to Shortplayer’s principles, by Emma Welton, and performed by Exeter Contemporary Sounds, joined by staff and students of Exeter University:
Simon Belshaw – melodica & score realisation
Adrian Curtin – cello
Andrew Gillett – viola
Julie Hill – violin
Rebecca Prince – violin
Alfie Pugh – marimba & bongos
January Sim – glockenspiel
Emma Welton – double bass & score realisation
Emma Welton’s Score: Shortplayer #4 – Full Score
Shortplayer #5, Starfield – Longplayer for Stars, was performed on the 2oth June 2019 as part of Longplayer Day 2019, at Trinity Buoy Wharf, London E14.
Shortplayer #5 was realised, according to Shortplayer’s principles, by Jem Finer and performed by him on a laptop computer.
Starfield (Longplayer for Stars)
In 2003, at the invitation of Professor Pedro Ferreira, I joined the Oxford Astrophysics department as artist-in-residence. At the time a supermassive black hole in the Perseus cluster of galaxies was in the news. Evidence of sound waves had been found, originating from the black hole, rippling through the cloud of hot gas filling the cluster. Dubbed “the deepest note ever detected in the universe” its pitch was identified as B flat, 57 octaves below middle C.
Relieved of the misconception that the universe was a silent vacuum I started looking for other instances of sound in space and slowly the universe grew into a cacophony: pulsars, black holes, the cosmic microwave background, radio storms . . . and ringing stars.
Asteroseismology, the study of oscillations in stars, reveals, through observation of tiny fluctuations in their surface and brightness, details of their internal structure. These oscillations arise from internal vibrations, sound waves, akin to the bubbling of water as it boils. Through sonification, mapping and transposing the data into the audible spectrum, we can listen to an interpretation of a star’s harmonics. Every star is ringing like a bell, each with its own unique series of overtones.
I began to imagine composing for an orchestra of stars but not much material was available. Observations from Earth were compromised by its atmosphere and the study was restricted to the Sun and a handful of the brightest nearby stars.
Starfield, proposal for an orchestra of stars, 2003
In 2014 I was invited to the Exploratorium in San Francisco to compose something for their new multi channel Meyer Constellation sound system. Both its name and its complex multi speaker structure prompted me to revisit the idea of Starfield.
Since the launch of the space telescopes COROT in 2006 and KEPLER in 2009 the harmonics of many more stars had been mapped and I began to expand my library of star sounds. I chose sonifications that evoked what I imagined to be some of the noise and energy of their original colossal physical force: the slow gritty low end pulse of giant stars, the luminous ringing fizz of white dwarfs and in between a variety of roughly pitched timbres originating from sun-like stars, binary systems, rapidly oscillating stars . . .
The algorithmic nature of Longplayer’s composition is such that Longplayer is but one instance of an incalculable number of possible compositions made through changing the algorithm’s variables. There exists a small but growing series of Shortplayer compositions, in which among other changed variables, including instrumentation, the variable defining overall duration is reduced from Longplayer’s 1000 years to a matter of minutes or hours.
Longplayer’s instrumentation, singing bowls, have something in common with stars. Though vastly different in terms of size and physical composition, acoustically both can be thought of as bell like instruments. For Longplayer Day 2019 I propose an experiment in which a short section of Longplayer is performed with the instrumentation changed from singing bowls to stars.
Both bowls and stars are hard to tune and it can be difficult to identify their pitch due to their often complex overtone structure. I have tried to match each bowl’s dominant frequency and timbre as closely as possible to a star from my collection. No claim is made to the sound of any star being definitive in any way, rather one of many possible interpretations of data being transformed into sound.
Earlier this year I was interviewed for a Radio 3 program, The Harmony of the Spheres. Their interest was in Longplayer but I argued that in the study of Asteroseismology there is a far more literal music of the spheres. In this experimental version Longplayer’s planetary system-like composition and the ringing of stars come together. These are early stages, a work in progress, but then Longplayer always is, by its nature, an ongoing process.