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.
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.
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.
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?