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The Radio that Plays for a Thousand Years


Have you Heard of Longplayer?

Preview: The Radio That Plays for a Thousand Years

In the April and June 2020 issues of RadioUser (RadioUser, April 2020: 28-31); May 2020: TBA), I am offering a two-part article about Standard Frequency and Time Signal (SFTS) radio stations, such as Anthorn in Cumbria, on 60kHz.

Just when I finished Part Two of the article (for the June 2020 issue), I came across a most unusual phenomenon. Tuning around on my DAB radio (Roberts Stream 107) I encountered Longplayer. Longplayer is a time-signal of a quite different order – it is where the radio meets deep-time, deep-thinking, philosophy and art.

Longplayer is a 1000-year-long (!) musical composition. It started playing at midnight on the 31st of December 1999, and it will continue to play – without any repetition – until the last moment of 2999, at which point it will conclude its cycle and begin again.

Devised and composed by Jem Finer, it was originally produced as an Artangel commission and is now in the care of the Longplayer Trust. Without going into too much detail, it works by harnessing an algorithm to six pieces of music. These are played in parallel, and simultaneously, at all times, on 234 magnificent Tibetan singing bowls.

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The algorithm chooses and combines these sections in such a way that no combination is repeated until exactly one thousand years have passed. Longplayer can be heard at public listening posts around the world, at its physical flagship location at the Lighthouse in Trinity Buoy Wharf, London, and, of course, on DAB digital radio.

I think that its effect is nothing short of mesmerising. It makes you think: Here is a slice of eternity on my radio. Will we still be here to listen to radio in 1,000 years?  Will there still be RadioUser? What might ‘radio’ be like by then? What do you think?

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