It doesn’t really sound like music – at least not like any music anyone is familiar with.

It sounds … creepy. I mean, really creepy. Super creepy. Don’t-listen-to-it-at-night-home-alone creepy. It’s random and haunting and it sounds like it would be the background music to a film Wes Craven would cook up. It is, however, an honest-to-God song. It’s composed, it’s timed and it’s designed to last exactly 1,000 years, start to finish with no breaks. It is playing now, and it will be playing long after your great-great-grandchildren’s grandchildren have left this world.

It goes by the modest name of “Longplayer,” and it was designed by a plucky little Irishman by the name of Jem Finer, best known for his work with the Celtic punk band The Pogues.

And it has fascinated me for a couple of years now.

Before you go off clicking through the web to jam out to Longplayer, let me give you a heads-up. Lady Gaga it ain’t. There’s no lyrics, no traditional instruments, no idea of melody, no “sha na na nas,” no beat, no guitar solos, no hooks to hang your hat on. It’s played on an instrument known as the Tibetan singing bowl, which are played a lot like running your finger around the rim of a wine glass.

What it sounds like are bells and chimes in slow motion. It will disturb your dog and your neighbors, and people will come in from other rooms, wondering what the heck you’re doing. What I’m saying is, Longplayer probably isn’t something you’ll listen to for fun.

But that’s beside the point. The song – and it’s actually a composed song, just like something Beethoven would have written if he’d done a lot of LSD – is built off a 20-minute and 20-second piece of source music recorded in the late 1990s. Finer figured out a way to loop that one piece of music and layer it on top of itself in such a way that once it starts, it won’t repeat itself for exactly 1,000 years – with the help of a computer, evidently. I can’t fully explain it to you here. It’s kind of complicated and mathematical, and me and numbers don't get along.

At midnight, Dec. 31, 1999, Finer and his buddies kicked off the song, and if everything goes according to plan, the piece will finish at the last second of the year 2999.

And that’s the fascinating part to me. The Longplayer Trust has been charged with coming up with ways to keep the song going, to make it survive everyone who created it and a great deal of their descendants, to last through wars; famine; peace; the rise and fall of new nations; the birth and death of new empires; and maybe even to outlast the entire run of The Simpsons.

As of the date of this writing, Longplayer has been running continuously for 11 years, 317 days, 2 hours, and a bunch of seconds. Which means it has barely started.

There’s no real way anyone can ever know if Longplayer’s mission will finish. Future generations will have to assume there were no power outages, no Windows Blue Screens of Death and no clumsy caretakers who accidentally tripped on the power cord. There won’t be a reward for having done it, no ticker-tape parade when it’s done and no human being could ever possibly hear the entire composition.

But there’s something infinitely comforting in the idea that my descendants could hop onto the web and pick up listening to the same song I’m listening to (and getting a little paranoid to – seriously, man, it’s creepy) as I write this. It’s possible that when they hear it, it will be a cheerful song. They’ll have no idea why it scared the pants off people in 2011.

Depending on how technology allows us to handle it, Longplayer could run forever. The song is being broadcast on the web, and it also plays live through loudspeakers at the Lighthouse in Trinity Buoy Wharf, London, and at several other listening stations in England, the U.S., Egypt and Australia.


The cynical part of me says that humans will find a way to mess this up, that it’s ridiculous to think any group of people, no matter how dedicated, could pull this off. Someone’s gonna mess up down the line, and won’t they feel like a monkey’s rump?

But the fact that someone would create something and place it in the trust of, not only other people – but entire future generations? There’s something incredible about that. Maybe even naïve. But it fills me with a strange idea of hope, for some reason. I’ve dropped in on a piece of self-composing music that will outlast every trace of me, and at some point, maybe some little creature with my genes will drop in on it, too. For just a moment, we will have shared a strand of time, even centuries apart.

Makes me feel like singing.