Sunday, 13 September 2009

Longplayer at the Roundhouse

I went to Longplayer at the Roundhouse yesterday to catch part of a highly ambitious and fascinating project. "Longplayer" is famously the longest non-repeating piece of music ever composed - 1000 years long to be exact. It began playing at midnight on the 31st of December 1999, and will continue to play without repetition until the end of 2999, (at which point it will complete its cycle and begin again). You can hear it at any time in the lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf, where a computer is currently playing it, or streaming live by clicking HERE.

Obviously the Roundhouse couldn't give up it's space for the rest of the project, but yesterday a 1000 minute section was played over the course of 12 hours, directed by Longplayer's composer Jem Finer, and performed by 26 musicians on a 20m wide instrument covered in 234 singing Tibetan bowls (described as a "giant ‘bronze age’ synthesizer), in the breathtaking interior space of the Roundhouse main space. Alongside the music was a 12 hour relayed conversation inspired by the philosophical implications of long time with some of the world's leading writers, filmmakers, scientists, academics and technology activists (think TED!), in the smaller theatre downstairs.

I got there just in time to catch playwright & critic Bonnie Greer (whom I love and used to watch Newsnight Review for), talking to mathematician Marcus du Sautoy (famous for popularizing maths) about the theatre of mathematics and Marcus's ability to explain and make maths accessible to people, much the same way Stephen Hawking did with A Brief History of Time. Or at least I think that's what they were talking about. After half an hour an usher gonged a Tibetan bowl, which signaled it was time for one speaker to leave and the other to remain, so Greer was replaced by Robert Peston (journalist & business editor for BBC news), who launched in to a coversation about the misapproriation of maths leading to the current financial crisis and why hedge fund managers are not inherantly evil. Interesting, but the next gong sent us upstairs for some music.

At this point, the contemporary dancer in me took over and my desire to take off my shoes and roll around on the floor slightly disabled my objectivity about the experience. The Roundhouse, a former steam engine repair shed, is an incredible space, especially in daylight, and the gloriously beautiful instrument comprised of six concentric circles sent my newly maths-addled brain in to raptures of joy. The layers of sound emanating across the room at a wide range of frequencies almost felt like a spiritual experience - some were so low you could really only feel them vibrating your chest. All of this performed by a solemn looking group of musicians whose intense concentration reminded me of monks in a temple performing a beautiful ritual as they beat and stirred the vibrations out of the bowls and in to the cosmos. I had a sneaking suspicion that some of the (mostly middle aged) characters dotted around the room, sitting on the floor in various states of bliss, sandals and bandanas were in it for the long haul - reminiscing about the post modern experimental movements and events of their youth and still reaching out to explore. I didn't stay too long - tourist in a mueseum style - because there was something so hypnotic about it those sounds, to sit down would have been to remain...

I got some fuzzy footage, trying unsuccesfully to stream from my phone, but for the Roundhouse's stream of talks & music click HERE


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