The Smith's Journal - August 2009

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Tags: Music, Computers

On Radio 4's Excess Baggage Sandi Toksvig interviewed ex-Pogues member Jem Finer searching for singing bowls in India. (Perhaps one of the Indian dealers mentioned in the piece was this guy!) Jem's quest was to find bowls for his epic composition called Longplayer, a vast installation piece of computer-controlled mechanical music set to last for 1000 years, in the spirit of The Long Now. It was set up and started on 1st January 2000 at The Lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf in East London. A nice place to visit at weekends, and free! And wow, you can stream the whole piece (if you live long enough!) - just click this link any time you need to calm down... I've saved the .m3u file to dip into at any time - LOVELY! [And I have informed them that some of their bowls are distorting the microphones!] No need to buy any more records now...!

WARNING: listening to this stream 24/7 at home (as I am now) may eventually have bandwidth issues with your ISP. In one week of listening all day every day, I'd use up most of my monthly 3GB bandwidth allowance, although I'm lucky in that after midnight until 8am and at weekends, my bandwidth usage is unlimited. So, since this music is ideal for the dark hours, I'll try some dream experiments with it on every night...

And since I like to download and keep free music I like, I thought I should check out the numbers:
The MP3 file stream is 56 Kb/s,
=> that equates to 7 KB/s,
=> that equates to 420 KB/min,
=> that equates to 25.2 MB/hour,
=> that equates to 604.8 MB/day, (would fit on one CD)
=> that equates to 4.2336 GB/week,
=> that equates to 220.1472 GB/year,
=> that equates to 220.1472 TB for the entire 1000years!
So you will need 220 * 1TB hard disk drives to save the entire piece, or about 343750 CDs (and that is compressed as MP3).

You can also download some excerpts for offline listening. It sounds very deep and quite dark, with lovely shimmering tones fading in and out. It's remarkable as a piece of mechanical sound, and I wonder exactly how the bowls are being rubbed by machines. I can't help wishing for more variety, including perhaps some rare appearances of special bowls every hour or so. I don't know how much there'll be in the way of development over time, and I'll not live to hear the end of it...

So maybe there's still a market after all for a non-distorted proper olde-fashioned CD (or download) of humanly-created heartfeltly-crafted music that doesn't last a lifetime. If you can't wait for me to get my act together and release mine, check out the excellent albums by Frank Perry and Andrew Lyddon. I'll notify you again once mine is completed, hopefully before the Longplayer piece has ended!

WARNING: listening to this stream 24/7 at home (as I am now) may soon have calming effects on your blood pressure, stress levels, ability to operate heavy machinery, willingness to engage in armed conflict, susceptibility to advertising, tolerance of the mainstream media, blind faith in TV personalities, belief in The Land Of The Fee, acceptance of the many-tentacled corporate petro-chemical octopus whose all-embracing grip our parents' generation once enjoyed, perception of the illusory veils of "Reality", etc.

WARNING: in The Future, music like this will be performed live in public squares accompanied by torchbearers and naked acrobats in slow motion processing gracefully around large mobile geometric sculptures and handing out fresh flowers. Well, it will once I start recruiting... ;-)

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Tags: Music, Places

If you're in Egypt, you can catch the Longplayer vibes on continuous play at this very cosmic building. WOW! Add this incredible place to my world tour itinerary.

Longplayer Live

Tags: Music

And if you're in Camden on Saturday September 12th, there will be a parallel live performance of a 1000-minute chunk of the work at The Roundhouse. Although it's a nice band of performers, including David Toop, Roger Eno and Steve Beresford, what is a bit lame is that they are taking it in turns to play the 16-hour piece. I mean, REALLY - kids today: no stamina! ;-)

Back in Doris Lessing's Zone Four of Shikasta, the army prided themselves on their men being in a constant state of readiness to fast and march for many days on end, as and when duty called. Similarly, my African master drum teacher David Oladunni played for three days continuously, as a rite of passage. I have DJ'ed for eight hours without stopping, and done many gigs of extreme lengths. And consider Erik Satie's Vexations. Sadly few musicians are so hardcore in their dedication. These wannabes of today have to consult their hairstylist every half-hour... (just kidding guys ;-)

Erik Satie's Vexations

Tags: Music

On the subject of very long pieces of music, French composer Erik Satie's piano piece Vexations has always fascinated me since I first read about it at college. It is rarely performed, and then usually only with teams of pianists, when really any decent pianist could (and should) just get down and play all 840 repeats (840 = 4 x 5 x 6 x 7 by the way), which would take around 28 hours:

The piece bears an inscription which says that "In order to play the theme 840 times in succession, it would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, and in the deepest silence, by serious immobilities".

This is reminiscent of the deeply reflective state called for by Stockhausen's "Gold Dust" from Aus den sieben Tagen. Few pianists have undertaken this journey alone. I'd like to one day :-) John Cage needed a team of helpers to premiere it in 1963. Gavin Bryars and Christopher Hobbs did a relay in 1971; Bryars in fact notes that the first ever full performance was given by a 13 year-old boy (!), Richard David Hames, in 1958 (unsubstantiated). Richard Toop did a quick 24-hour dash through it in 1967 (on methedrine!). Bryars also describes many other fascinating renditions, including having dancers dance for the entire duration, and Cage's second performance which included a topless Charlotte Moorman, "because 'she loved nudity' and because Cage had bet her $100 that she would not do it." In 2000 Armin Fuchs was good enough to perform it solo at a more proper tempo; here are EEG, audio and MIDI recordings. Robert Racine went way beyond the call of duty in his performances, "abstaining from liquids the evening before the performance in order not to have to interrupt the 840 repetitions by visiting the lavatory"!

My own piece "Repetitions" (from Night Studies) was inspired by Vexations, and has only 640 repeats of a much shorter loop which is easier to play but always wants to return to the beginning again, so ending it is hard. I can imagine that the worst possible thing would be to lose count! I've conceived many other works of extreme duration, some involving teams of players, although none have been completed or realised yet.


African Beats Camp

Tags: Music, Drumming

African Beats Camp - a drumfest instead of Tribe Of Doris, was held in Camerton, Somerset from 2009-08-25...31. We had such a fabulous time, most people attending saying that it was easily the best African drumming event ever. Pics soon... Roll on 2010!

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Licence © The right to copy is left with the user copyleft Malcolm Smith 2008-12-25 - last updated 2010-02-03