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Music, Time and Long-Term Thinking: Brian Eno Expands the Vocabulary of Human Feeling

Posted on Thursday, November 30th, 02017 by Ahmed Kabil
link   Categories: Long Term Art, The Big Here   chat 0 Comments

Brian Eno’s creative activities defy categorization. Widely known as a musician and producer, Eno has expanded the frontiers of audio and visual art for decades, and posited new ways of approaching creativity in general. He is a thinker and speaker, activist and eccentric. He formulated the idea of the Big Here and Long Now—a central conceptual underpinning of The Long Now Foundation, which he helped found with Stewart Brand and Danny Hillis in 01996. Eno’s artistic career has often dealt closely with concepts of time, scale, and, as he puts it in the liner notes to Apollo“expanding the vocabulary of human feeling.”

Ambient and Generative Art

Brian Eno coined the term ‘ambient music’ to describe a kind of music meant to influence an ambience without necessarily demanding the listener’s full attention. The notes accompanying his 01978 album Ambient 1: Music for Airports differentiate it from the commercial music produced specifically for background listening by companies such as Muzak, Inc. in the mid-01900s. Eno explains that ambient music should enhance — not blanket — an environment’s acoustic and atmospheric characteristics, to calming and thought-inducing effect. It has to accommodate various levels of listening engagement, and therefore “must be as ignorable as it is interesting” (Eno 296).

Ambient music can have a timeless quality to it. The absence of a traditional structure of musical development withholds a clear beginning or end or middle, tapping into a sense of deeper, slower processes. It lets you “settle into time a little bit,” as Eno said in the first of Long Now’s SALT talks. As TimeMagazine writes, “the theme of time, foreshortened or elongated, is a defining feature of Eno’s musical and visual adventures. But it takes a long lens, pointing back, to bring into focus the ways in which his influence has seeped into the mainstream.”

Eno’s use of the term ‘ambient’ was, however, a product of a long process of musical development. He had been thinking specifically about this kind of music for several years already, and the influence of minimalist artists such as Terry RileySteve Reich and Philip Glass had long shaped his musical ideas and techniques. He also drew on many other genres, including Krautrockbands such as Tangerine Dream and Can, whose music was contemporaneous and influential in Eno’s early collaborations with Robert Fripp, e.g. (No Pussyfooting). While their music might not necessarily fall into the genre ‘ambient,’ David Sheppard notes that “Eno and Fripp’s lengthy essays shared with Krautrock a disavowal of verse/chorus orthodoxy and instead relied on an essentially static musical core with only gradual internal harmonic developments” (142). In his autobiography, Eno also points to developments in audio technology as key in the development of the genre, as well as one particularly insightful experience he had while bedridden after an accident:

New sound-shaping and space-making devices appeared on the market weekly (and still do), synthesizers made their clumsy but crucial debut, and people like me just sat at home night after night fiddling around with all this stuff, amazed at what was now possible, immersed in the new sonic worlds we could create.

And immersion was really the point: we were making music to swim in, to float in, to get lost inside.

This became clear to me when I was confined to bed, immobilized by an accident in early 01975. My friend Judy Nylon had visited, and brought with her a record of 17th-century harp music. I asked her to put it on as she left, which she did, but it wasn’t until she’d gone that I realized that the hi-fi was much too quiet and one of the speakers had given up anyway. It was raining hard outside, and I could hardly hear the music above the rain — just the loudest notes, like little crystals, sonic icebergs rising out of the storm. I couldn’t get up and change it, so I just lay there waiting for my next visitor to come and sort it out, and gradually I was seduced by this listening experience. I realized that this was what I wanted music to be — a place, a feeling, an all-around tint to my sonic environment.

It was not long after this realization that Eno released the album Discreet Music, which he considers to be an ambient work, mentioning a conceptual likeness to Erik Satie’s Furniture Music. One of the premises behind its creation was that it would be background for Robert Fripp to play over in concerts, and the title track is about half an hour long — as much time as was available to Eno on one side of a record.

It is also an early example in his discography of what later became another genre closely associated with Eno and with ambient: generative music. In the liner notes — which include the story of the broken speaker epiphany — he writes:

Since I have always preferred making plans to executing them, I have gravitated towards situations and systems that, once set into operation, could create music with little or no intervention on my part.

That is to say, I tend towards the roles of planner and programmer, and then become an audience to the results.

This notion of creating a system that generates an output is an idea that artists had considered previously. In fact, in the 18th century even Mozart and others experimented with a ‘musical dice game’ in which the numerical results of rolling dice ‘generated’ a song. More relevant to Brian Eno’s use of generative systems, however, was the influence of 20th century composers such as John Cage. David Sheppard’s biography of Brian Eno describes how Tom Phillips — a teacher at Ipswich School of Art where Eno studied painting in the mid 01960s — introduced him to the musical avant garde scene with the works of Cage, Cornelius Cardew, and the previously mentioned minimalists Reich, Glass and Riley (Sheppard 35–41). These and other artists exposed Eno to ideas such as aleatory and minimalist music, tape experimentation, and performance or process-based musical concepts.

Eno notes Steve Reich’s influence on his generative music, acknowledging that “indeed a lot of my interest was directly inspired by Steve Reich’s sixties tape pieces such as Come Out) and It’s Gonna Rain” (Eno 332). And looking back on a 01970 performance by the Philip Glass Ensemble at the Royal College of Art, Brian Eno highlights its impact on him:

This was one of the most extraordinary musical experiences of my life — sound made completely physical and as dense as concrete by sheer volume and repetition. For me it was like a viscous bath of pure, thick energy. Though he was at that time described as a minimalist, this was actually one of the most detailed musics I’d ever heard. It was all intricacy and exotic harmonics. (Sheppard 63–64)

The relationship between minimalism and intricacy, in a sense, is what underlies the concept of generative music. The artist designs a system with inputs which, when compared to the plethora of outputs, appear quite simple. Steve Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain is, in fact, simply a single 1.8 second recording of a preacher shouting “It’s gonna rain!” played simultaneously on two tape recorders. Due to the inconsistencies in the two devices’ hardware, however, the recordings play at slightly different speeds, producing over 17 minutes of phasing in which the relationship between the two recordings constantly changes.

Brian Eno has taken this capacity for generative music to create complexity out of simplicity much further. Discreet Music (01975) used a similar approach, but started with recordings of different lengths, used an echo system, and altered timbre over time. The sonic possibilities opened by adding just a few more variables are vast.

This experimental approach to creativity is just one of many that Eno explored, including some non-musical means of prompting unexpected outputs. The same year that Discreet Music was released, he collaborated with painter Peter Schmidt to produce Oblique Strategies: Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas.

The work is a set of cards, each one with an aphorism designed to help people think differently or to approach a problem from a different angle. These include phrases such as “Honour thy error as a hidden intention,” “Work at a different speed,” and “Use an old idea.” Schmidt had created something a few years earlier along the same lines that he called ‘Thoughts Behind the Thoughts.’ There was also inspiration to be drawn from John Cage’s use of the I Ching to direct his musical compositions and George Brecht’s 01963 Water Yam Box. Like a generative system, the Oblique Strategies provides a guiding rule or principle that is specific enough to focus creativity but general enough to yield an unknown outcome, dependent on a multitude of variables interacting within the framework of the strategy.

Three decades later, generative systems remained a central inspiration for Eno and a source of interesting cross-disciplinary collaboration. In 02006, he discussed them with Will Wright, creator of popular video game series The Sims, at a Long Now SALT talk:

Wright observed that science is all about compressing reality to minimal rule sets, but generative creation goes the opposite direction. You look for a combination of the fewest rules that can generate a whole complex world that will always surprise you, yet within a framework that stays recognizable. “It’s not engineering and design,” he said, “so much as it is gardening. You plant seeds. Richard Dawkins says that a willow seed has only about 800K of data in it.” — Stewart Brand

Brian Eno has always been interested in this explosion of possibilities, and has in recent years created generative art that incorporates both audio and visuals. He notes that his work 77 Million Paintings would take about 10,000 years to run through all of its possibilities — at its slowest setting. Long Now produced the North American premiere of 77 Million Paintings at Yerba Buena center for the Arts in 02007, and members were treated to a surprise visit from Mr. Eno who spoke about his work and Long Now.

Eno also designed an art installation for The Interval, Long Now’s cafe-bar-museum venue in San Francisco. “Ambient Painting #1” is the only example of Brian’s generative light work in America, and the only ambient painting of his that is currently on permanent public display anywhere.

Ambient Painting #1, by Brian Eno. Photo by Gary Wilson.

Another generative work called Bloom, created with Peter Chilvers, is available as an app.

Part instrument, part composition and part artwork, Bloom’s innovative controls allow anyone to create elaborate patterns and unique melodies by simply tapping the screen. A generative music player takes over when Bloom is left idle, creating an infinite selection of compositions and their accompanying visualisations. — Generativemusic.com

Eno’s interest in time and scale (among other things) was shared by Long Now co-founder Stewart Brand, and they were in close correspondence in the years leading up to the creation of The Long Now Foundation. Eno’s 01995 diary, published in part in his autobiography, describes that correspondence in its introduction:

My conversation with Stewart Brand is primarily a written one — in the form of e-mail that I routinely save, and which in 1995 alone came to about 100,000 words. Often I discuss things with him in much greater detail than I would write about them for my own benefit in the diary, and occasionally I’ve excerpted from that correspondence. — Eno, ix

Out of Eno’s involvement with the establishment of The Long Now Foundation emerged in his essay “The Big Here and Long Now”, which describes his experiences with small-scale perspectives and the need for larger ones, as well as the artist’s role in social change.

This imaginative process can be seeded and nurtured by artists and designers, for, since the beginning of the 20th century, artists have been moving away from an idea of art as something finished, perfect, definitive and unchanging towards a view of artworks as processes or the seeds for processes — things that exist and change in time, things that are never finished. Sometimes this is quite explicit — as in Walter de Maria’s “Lightning Field,” a huge grid of metal poles designed to attract lightning. Many musical compositions don’t have one form, but change unrepeatingly over time — many of my own pieces and Jem Finer’s Artangel installation “LongPlayer” are like this. Artworks in general are increasingly regarded as seeds — seeds for processes that need a viewer’s (or a whole culture’s) active mind in which to develop. Increasingly working with time, culture-makers see themselves as people who start things, not finish them.

And what is possible in art becomes thinkable in life. We become our new selves first in simulacrum, through style and fashion and art, our deliberate immersions in virtual worlds. Through them we sense what it would be like to be another kind of person with other kinds of values. We rehearse new feelings and sensitivities. We imagine other ways of thinking about our world and its future.

[…] In this, the 21st century, we may need icons more than ever before. Our conversation about time and the future must necessarily be global, so it needs to be inspired and consolidated by images that can transcend language and geography. As artists and culture-makers begin making time, change and continuity their subject-matter, they will legitimise and make emotionally attractive a new and important conversation.

The Chime Generator and January 07003

Brian Eno’s involvement with Long Now began through his discussions with Stewart Brand about time and long-term thinking, and the need for a carefully crafted sonic experience to help The Clock evoke deep time for its visitors posed a challenge Eno was uniquely suited to take on.

From its earliest conception, the imagined visit to the 10,000-Year Clock has had aural experience at its core. One of Danny Hillis’ earliest refrains about The Clock evokes this:

It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium. —Danny Hillis

In the years of brainstorming and design that have molded this vision into a tangible object, a much more detailed and complicated picture has come into focus, but sound has remained central; one of the largest components of the 10,000-Year Clock will be its Chime Generator.

Rather than a bong per century, visitors to the Clock will have the opportunity to hear it chime 10 bells in a unique sequence each day at noon. The story of how this came to be is told by Mr. Eno himself in the liner notes of January 07003: Bell Studies for The Clock of the Long Now, a collection of musical experiments he synthesized and recorded in 02003:

When we started thinking about The Clock of the Long Now, we naturally wondered what kind of sound it could make to announce the passage of time. Bells have stood the test of time in their relationship to clocks, and the technology of making them is highly evolved and still evolving. I began reading about bells, discovering the physics of their sounds, and became interested in thinking about what other sorts of bells might exist. My speculations quickly took me out of the bounds of current physical and material possibilities, but I considered some license allowable since the project was conceived in a time scale of thousands of years, and I might therefore imagine bells with quite different physical properties from those we now know (Eno 3).

Bells have a long history of marking time, so their inclusion in The Clock is a natural fit. Throughout this long history, they’ve also commonly been used in churches, meditation halls and yoga studios to offer a resonant ambiance in which to contemplate a connection to something bigger, much as The Clock’s vibrations will help inspire an awareness of one’s place in deep time. Furthermore, bells were central to some early forms of generative music. While learning about their history, Eno found a vast literature on the ways bells had been used in Britain to explore the combinatorial possibilities afforded by following a few simple rules:

Stated briefly, change-ringing is the art (or, to many practitioners, the science) of ringing a given number of bells such that all possible sequences are used without any being repeated. The mathematics of this idea are fairly simple: n bells will yield n! sequences or changes. The ! is not an expression of surprise but the sign for a factorial: a direction to multiply the number by all those lower than it. So 3 bells will yield 3 x 2 x 1 = 6 changes, while 4 bells will yield 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 24 changes. The ! process does become rather surprising as you continue it for higher values of n: 5! = 120, and 6! = 720 — and you watch the number of changes increasing dramatically with the number of bells. — Eno 4

Eno noticed that 10 bells in this context will provide 3,628,800 sequences. Ring one of those each day and you’ll be occupied for almost exactly 10,000 years, the proposed lifespan of The Clock.

Following this line of thinking, he imagined using the patterns played by the bells as a method of encoding the amount of time that had elapsed since The Clock had started ringing them. Writing in 02003, he says:

I wanted to hear the bells of the month of January, 07003 — approximately halfway through the life of the Clock.

I had no idea how to generate this series, but I had a good idea who would.

I wrote to Danny Hillis asking whether he could come up with an algorithm for the job. Yes, he wrote back, and in fact he could come up with an algorithm for generating all the possible algorithms for that job. Not having the storage space for a lot of extra algorithms in my studio, I decided to settle for just the one. — Eno 6

And so, the pattern The Clock’s bells will ring was set. Using a start point (02003 in this case), one can extrapolate the order in which the Bells will ring for a given day in the future. The title track of the album features the synthesized bells played in each of the 31 sequences for the month of January in the year 07003. Other tracks on the album use different algorithms or different bells to explore alternative possibilities; taken together, the album is distinctly “ambient” in Eno’s tradition, but also unique within his work for its minimalism and procedurality.

The procedures guiding the composition are strict enough that they can be written in computer code. A Long Now Member named Sean Burke was kind enough to create a webpage that illustrates how this works. The site allows visitors to enter a future date and receive a MIDI file of the chimes from that day. You can also download the algorithm itself in the form of a Perl script or just grab the MIDI data for all 10,000 years and synthesize your own bells.

If the bell ringing algorithm is a seed, in what soil can it be planted and expected to live its full life? Compact disks, Perl scripts and MIDI files have their uses, of course, but The Clock has to really last in a physical, functional sense for many thousands of years. To serve this purpose, the Chime Generator manifests the algorithm in stainless steel Geneva wheels rotating on bearings of silicon nitride.

Eno’s Chime Generator prototype. Photo by Because We Can

One of the first prototypes for this mechanism resides at The Interval. In its operation, one can see that the Geneva wheels rotate at different intervals because of their varying numbers of slots. Together, the Geneva wheels represent the ringing algorithm and sequentially engage the hammers in all 3.6 million permutations. For this prototype, the hammers strike Tibetan Bowl Gongs to sound the notes, but any type of bell can be used.

The full scale Chime Generator will be vertically suspended in the Clock shaft within the mountain. The Geneva wheels will be about 8 feet in diameter, with the full mechanism standing over seventy feet in height.

The bells for the full scale Chime Generator won’t be Tibetan Bowl Gongs like in the smaller prototype above. Though testing has been done within the Clock chamber to find its resonant frequency, the exact tuning and design of the Clock’s bells will be left until the chamber is finished and most of the Clock is installed in order to maximize their ability to resonate within the space.

Like much of Brian Eno’s work, the chimes in the 10,000-Year Clock draw together far-flung traditions, high and low tech, and science and art to create a meditative experience, unique in a given moment, but expansive in scale and scope. They encourage the listener to live and to be present in the moment, the “now,” but to feel that moment expanding forward and backward through time, literally to experience the “Long Now.”



This is the first of a series of articles, “Music, Time and Long-Term Thinking,” in which we will discuss music and musicians who have engaged various aspects of long-term thinking, both historically and in the contemporary scene.

Why Do Some Forms of Knowledge Go Extinct?

Posted on Wednesday, July 26th, 02017 by Ahmed Kabil
link   Categories: Long Term Art   chat 0 Comments

The History of Art and Architecture slide library at Trinity College, Dublin. Via the Department of Ultimology.


Fiona Hallinan is an artist and researcher based at Trinity College, Dublin. She’s co-founder of a project along with curator Kate Strain called the Department of Ultimology. Ultimology is the study of that which is dead or dying in a series or process. When applied to academic disciplines, it becomes the study of extinct or endangered subjects, theories, and tools of learning. Long Now recently spoke with Hallinan when she visited The Interval. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

LONG NOW: What was the inspiration for a department studying extinct or endangered subjects and theories?

Fiona Hallinan: It began back when Kate and I were both alumni of the History of Art and Architecture Department at Trinity University College, Dublin. We learned everything we studied from a rather limited slide library. And we were speculating how in the last ten years those slides probably had been digitized, and students now probably had access to an infinite number of images compared to our limited selection. We wondered how that had impacted how people learned the discipline, and therefore how that had actually evolved the discipline of art history itself. So we came up with an idea for a department within the university that would examine all the other disciplines and departments from that perspective.

Via the Department of Ultimology.


We had encountered the term “ultimology” in the context of the study of endangered languages and thought that that could be expanded to become a general discipline across the university that looked at that which was dead or dying. In 02014 we applied for and won the Trinity Creative Challenge, which was a provost’s award for artistic projects that would explore the university and present the knowledge being produced there to the general public. We spent the next year conducting interviews with different heads of departments and disciplines about what was ultimological in their disciplines. Based off of our findings, we organized the First International Conference of Ultimology, a public event that presented a mix of artistic commissions, presentations and real academic papers. Through that we were invited to be hosted as the Department of Ultimology in residence at CONNECT, which is the center for future networks at Trinity.

LN: What is your methodology when approaching a given academic discipline? Are you reaching out to specific fields and subjects that you suspect as having ultimological potential?

FH: At the beginning we just wanted to get as wide as scope as possible; we had a particular narrative that we expected to encounter, namely, that there was an increasing commercialization of the university because certain disciplines could receive funding that perhaps other modes of knowledge production could not on account of phasing out of interest and activity. We thought that a subject like, say, medieval architecture might be virtually impossible to get funding for nowadays versus something like computational linguistics. And as a result, this was causing a shift or change in the structure of the university.

The Illusion of Infinite Resources,” by the Department of Ultimology.


While we did find that that was true to an extent, we also found that as a term, “ultimology” was really exciting for lots of the academics that we spoke to, and there was a sense of relief that finally there was somewhere they could put all of this endangered or extinct knowledge. Often, we would go into a meeting and people would be prepared with heaps of examples, whereas other times people would be interested but say that ultimology wasn’t really that relevant to their discipline, only to realize through inquiry that it was.

One example of that was in Trinity’s Department of Psychology, where the department head, Dr. Jean Quigley, said that psychology didn’t really have anything ultimological because ideas and tools were added all the time instead of being taken away. We asked her for an example of something that had been recently added, and she described the concept of personality. From that, we asked what would the set of qualities we call “personality” been described as before. And she said that people would have spoken about the soul. So from that conversation we started to think about different methodologies, and we described that methodology as negative space—the space that the concept would have occupied before.

A second methodology we developed was the idea of ultimology as a service. We hold clinics where academics come to us and speak to us, and the ultimological becomes a service akin to therapy where people can get things off their chest or they can talk about their research papers that didn’t go anywhere. It becomes a repository for the burden of the recent past.

Another methodology we began to utilize was the idea of embodiment, where we embody the Department of Ultimology through commissioning artists to make us the accessories or trappings of a real department, like bureaucratic forms.

Lanyards designed by Dennis McNulty for the First International Conference of Ultimology. Via the Department of Ultimology.


For our conference, we found a company in Dublin that had a hundred remaining lanyards with mobile phone loops on them, which would have been used in the pre-smartphone age. We commissioned an artist, Dennis McNulty, to riff on these lanyards with a poetic piece of text on them about the designer of the iPhone. The lanyard itself looked like an iPhone. And so there was this potential in an object like a lanyard that connoted a certain context and space of knowledge production, and I think there’s scope there to work with artists to consider those objects and what they mean and what their associations are for us. The bureaucratic questionnaire fulfills a similar function: it asks what research is, and talks about the idea of a person’s practice. While it looks very bureaucratic, its purpose is to get people to go deeply into reflecting on what they actually do.

The performativity of being a “department”  is essential. By doing it, it becomes real. While the Department of Ultimology is technically an art project, it’s not about just a specific outcome or a specific object coming out of it;  it’s more about using an artistic process to re-evaluate everything critically.

LN: What role does nostalgia play in the Department of Ultimology? Do the academics you interview bemoan a lost discipline or practice?  

FH: We try to be careful to avoid nostalgia, to avoid people being sad for something just because of a kind of fondness for it. While I’m not against nostalgia personally, I think it’s less interesting to fetishize the past, and more interesting to look at how these things actually affect the future.

Glassware blown by Trinity’s resident glassblower John Kelly.


For example, we met with Dr. Sylvia Draper, Head of the School of Chemistry at Trinity, and asked her what had changed in the discipline of Chemistry. She spoke about how glassware used to be an essential part of research. If you were a student of chemistry, you might actually design a piece of glassware that goes with your research. Draper told us that Trinity College had a glassblowing workshop on site with a glassblower named John Kelly, but that he was going to retire in two years and would not be replaced. It ties back to the commercialization of the university: the reason he’s not being replaced is because he’s salaried and a salaried employee is a high cost for the university. And so he and his work become expendable because in theory the department can just bring in cheaper, standard glassware from abroad.

However, if you’re a student and you’re planning your experiment and it requires an intricate, strange, unique piece of glass, it might now be much more expensive for you to get it, which might impact how you look at your research. You might be less willing or able to do something weirder, essentially. I picture it like these tiny little cracks that maybe can’t be explored in a discipline as people are funnelled down into a more particular standard route.

John Kelly at work in his lab at Trinity College, Dublin. Via the Department of Ultimology.


So while there’s a sense of nostalgia thinking about John Kelly in his lab and his beautiful glassware, it’s less about trying to preserve what he’s doing for the sake of it; there’s an actual reason behind it that’s important to know about. It’s also very short-term thinking. Say his salary is 50,000 Euro a year, and a piece of special glassware costs 1,000 Euro to ship in. it’s really quickly not going to add up, and is a short-sighted view of saving money now without much thought to the future.

LN: Looking to the future, what’s next for the Department of Ultimology?

Kate Strain and Fiona Hallinan, founders of the Department of Ultimology.


We’re hoping to publish a journal in December. We’re treating the journey of making it all as part of the project as well. So it won’t be a roll-out of a finished product, and I think that we might think of the field of peer review as potential for a public event.  

Ultimately, we would like to start a Department of Ultimology in every time zone. We say “time zones” because  it’s a way of dividing the world that is perhaps more timeless than countries or nation-states. There’s an instability to those, particularly at the moment, whereas time zones have a celestial, larger-than-us quality.

Keep up with the Department of Ultimology by heading to its website or following it on Twitter.

10 Years Ago: Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings in San Francisco, 02007

Posted on Thursday, June 29th, 02017 by Mikl Em
link   Categories: Events, Long Term Art   chat 0 Comments


Long Now co-founders Stewart Brand (center)
and Brian Eno (right) in San Francisco, 02007

Exactly a decade ago today, in June 02007, Long Now hosted the North American Premiere of Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings. It was a celebration of Eno’s unique generative art work, as well as the inaugural event of our newly launched Long Now Membership program.

Here’s how we described the large scale art work at the time:

Conceived by Brian Eno as “visual music”, his latest artwork 77 Million Paintings is a constantly evolving sound and imagescape which continues his exploration into light as an artist’s medium and the aesthetic possibilities of “generative software”.

We presented 77 Million Paintings over three nights at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) on June 29 & 30 and July 1, 02007.

The Friday and Saturday shows were packed with about 900 attendees each. On Sunday we hosted a special Long Now members night. The crowd was smaller with only our newly joined charter members plus Long Now staff and Board, including the artist himself.

Long Now co-founder Brian Eno at his 77 Million Paintings opening in San Francisco, 02007; photo by Scott Beale

Brian Eno came in from London for the event. While he’d shown this work at the Venice Bienniale, the Milan Triennale, Tokyo, London and South Africa; this was its first showing in the U.S. (or anywhere in North America). The actual presentation was a unique large scale projection created collaboratively with San Francisco’s Obscura Digital creative studio.

The installation was in a large, dark room accompanied by generative ambient Eno music. The audience could sit in chairs at the back of the room, sink into bean bags, or lie down on rugs or the floor closer to the screens. Like the Ambient Painting at The Interval or other examples of Eno’s generative visual art, a series of high resolution images slowly fade in and over each other and out again at a glacial pace. In brilliant colors, constantly transforming at a rate so slow it is difficult to track. Until you notice it’s completely different.

Close up of 77 Million Paintings at the opening in San Francisco, 02007; photo by Robin Rupe

Close up of 77 Million Paintings at the opening in San Francisco, 02007; photo by Robin Rupe

Long Now Executive Director Alexander Rose also spoke:

About the work: Brian Eno discusses 77 Million Paintings with Wired News (excerpt):

Eno: The pieces surprise me. I have 77 Million Paintings running in my studio a lot of the time. Occasionally I’ll look up from what I’m doing and I think, “God, I’ve never seen anything like that before!” And that’s a real thrill.
Wired News: When you look at it, do you feel like it’s something that you had a hand in creating?
Eno: Well, I know I did, but it’s a little bit like if you are dealing hands of cards and suddenly you deal four aces. You know it’s only another combination that’s no more or less likely than any of the other combinations of four cards you could deal. Nonetheless, some of the combinations are really striking. You think, “Wow — look at that one.” Sometimes some combination comes up and I know it’s some result of this system that I invented, but nonetheless I didn’t imagine such a thing could be produced by it.

The exterior of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) has its own beautiful illumination:

There was a simultaneous virtual version of 77 Million Paintings ongoing in Second Life:

Here’s video of the Second Life version of 77 Million Paintings. Looking at it today gives you some sense of what the 02007 installation was like in person:

We brought the prototype of the 10,000 Year Clock’s Chime Generator to YBCA (this was 7 years before it was converted into a table for the opening of The Interval):

The Chime Generator was outfitted with tubular bells at the time:

10,000 Year Clock Chime Generator prototype at 77 Million Paintings in San Francisco, 02007; photo by Scott Beale

After two days open to the public, the closing night event was a performance and a party exclusively for Long Now members. Our membership program was brand new then, and many charter members joined just in time to attend the event. So a happy anniversary to all of you who are celebrating a decade as a Long Now member!

Brian Eno, 77 Million Paintings opening in San Francisco, 02007; photo by Robin Rupe

Members flew in from around the country for the event. Long Now’s Founders were all there. This began a tradition of Long Now special events with members which have included Longplayer / Long Conversation which was also at YBCA and our two Mechanicrawl events which explored of San Francisco’s mechanical wonders.

Here are a few more photos of Long Now staff and friends who attended:

Long Now co-founder Danny Hillis, 77 Million Paintings opening in San Francisco, 02007; photo by Robin Rupe

Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey and Long Now co-founder Stewart Brand at 77 Million Paintings opening in San Francisco; photo by Scott Beale

Kevin Kelly and Louis Rosetto, 77 Million Paintings opening in San Francisco, 02007; photo by Robin Rupe

Lori Dorn and Jeffrey & Jillian of Because We Can at the 77 Million Paintings opening in San Francisco, 02007; photo by Scott Beale

Long Now staff Mikl-em & Danielle Engelman at the 77 Million Paintings opening in San Francisco, 02007; photo by Scott Beale

Thanks to Scott Beale / Laughing Squid, Robin Rupe, and myself for the photos used above. Please mouse over each to see the photo credit.

Brian Eno at 77 Million Paintings opening in San Francisco, 02007; photo by Robin Rupe

More photos from Scott Beale. More photos of the event by Mikl Em.

More on the production from Obscura Digital.

The Industrial Sublime: Edward Burtynsky Takes the Long View

Posted on Monday, June 19th, 02017 by Ahmed Kabil
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“Oil Bunkering #1, Niger Delta, Nigeria 2016” / Photograph by Edward Burtynsky

The New Yorker recently profiled photographer, former SALT speaker, and 02016 sponsor of the Conversations at the Interval livestream Edward Burtynsky and his quest to document a changing planet in the anthropocene age.

“What I am interested in is how to describe large-scale human systems that impress themselves upon the land,” Burtynsky told New Yorker staff writer Raffi Khatchadourian as they surveyed the decimated, oil-covered landscapes of Lagos, Nigeria from a helicopter.

“Saw Mills #1, Niger Delta, Nigeria 2016” / Photograph by Edward Burtynsky

For over three decades, Edward Burtynsky has been taking large-format photographs of industrial landscapes which include mining locations around the globe and the building of Three Gorges Dam in China. His work has been noted for beautiful images which are often at odds with their subject’s negative environmental impacts.

Photograph by Benedicte Kurzen / Noor for The New Yorker

“This is the sublime of our time,” said Burtynsky in his 02008 SALT Talk, which included a formal proposal for a permanent art gallery in the chamber that encloses the 10,000-year Clock, as well as the results of his research into methods of capturing images that might have the best chance to survive in the long-term.

“Oil Bunkering #4, Niger Delta, Nigeria 2016” / Photograph by Edward Burtynsky

As the Khatchadourian notes, Burtynsky’s approach has at times attracted controversy:

Over the years, greater skepticism has been voiced about […] Burtynsky’s inclination to depict toxic landscapes in visually arresting terms. A critic responding to “Oil” wondered whether the fusing of beauty with monumentalism, of extreme photographic detachment with extreme ecological damage, could trigger only apathy as a response. [Curator] Paul Roth had a different view: “Maybe these people are a bit immune to the sublime—being terribly anxious while also being attracted to the beauty of an image.”

“Oil Bunkering #2, Niger Delta, Nigeria 2016” / Photograph by Edward Burtynsky

Burtynsky does not seek to be heavy-handed or pedantic in his work, but neither does he seek to be amoral. The environmental and human rights issues are directly shown, rather than explicitly proclaimed.

“Oil Bunkering #5, Niger Delta, Nigeria 2016” / Photograph by Edward Burtynsky

In recent years Burtynsky’s work has focused on water, including oil spills around the world, like the ones he was documenting in Lagos, a city he calls a “hyper crucible of globalism.”

As the global consequences of human activity have become unmistakably pressing, Burtynsky has connected his photography more directly with environmentalism. “There has been a discussion for a long time about climate change, but we don’t seem to be ceasing anything,” he says. “That has begun to bring a sense of urgency to me.”

Burtynsky is currently working on the film Anthropocene, which documents unprecedented human impact on the natural world.

Read The New Yorker profile of Burtynsky in full.

Is Anything Original? The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Remediation

Posted on Friday, May 19th, 02017 by Ahmed Kabil
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As PBS Newshour reports, modern-day renaissance workshop Factum Arte preserves art and historical works threatened by war, looting and the passage of time by creating high tech, full-scale reproductions of them. In so doing, the organization is challenging notions of what constitutes an original work of art.

Factum Arte is recreating works of art recently destroyed by ISIS and damaged in the Syrian Civil War. Via Factum Arte.

 

A Monument to Outlast Humanity

Posted on Wednesday, May 17th, 02017 by Ahmed Kabil
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“City” is made almost entirely from rocks, sand, and concrete that is mined and mixed on site. Via Jamie Hawkesworth / The New Yorker

Michael Heizer, an eccentric pioneer of the Earthworks movement, is almost done with the mile-and-a-half sculpture he’s been working on for upwards of half a century in a remote Nevada desert. And almost nobody has seen it. “City,” inspired by the ancient ritual sites of past civilizations and set to open to the public in 02020, is one of the most ambitious artworks ever attempted. The New Yorker recently profiled Heizer’s life and work, providing the first in-depth look at his efforts to build a monument to outlast humanity.

Read the feature in full here. To see more photos of “City,” head here.

SEE ALSO: Long Now’s 02012 profile of Heizer’s Levitating Mass, a 340-ton mass of granite and one of the only sculptures in the world meant to be walked under, now on permanent display at LACMA.

Centuries of the Bristlecone

Posted on Thursday, January 21st, 02016 by Jonathon Keats
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The Nevada Museum of Art has a commitment to supporting the creation, study, and preservation of art that explores the boundaries of human environments. In spatial terms that means the Museum collects and exhibits work from the Great Basin outward to the polar regions, the great deserts of the world, and high altitudes, including near space. In temporal terms, that includes materials with roots in deep human time, such as projects with Australian Aboriginal artists—but also artworks that project into the future, which is to say the Long Now.

Jonathon Keats’ proposal to construct a 5,000 year calendrical index linked between the Museum in Reno and Long Now’s site at 11,000 feet in remote eastern Nevada resides simultaneously on many frontiers. This is also a hallmark of our Art of the Greater West collection, which includes work from throughout a super-region that extends from Alaska south to Patagonia, and west across the Pacific to Australia. This physical and metaphorical territory “west of the mountains” is in a perpetual state of discovery. The Museum’s multiple permanent holdings, including its Contemporary Art and large Altered Landscape photography collection, are focused around human interactions with natural, built, and virtual spaces. Jonathon’s calendar will powerfully manifest how these collections, exhibitions, and research projects inhabit this rich confluence.

 

Bill Fox
Director, Center for Art + Environment
Nevada Museum of Art

William Fox will be speaking about the Art of the Greater West at The Interval at Long Now in April 02016. The Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno is partnering with the artist Jonathon Keats and The Long Now Foundation to realize Centuries of the Bristlecone for a permanent installation at the Museum in 02020. The archive of the project will reside at the Center for Art + Environment, where it will be available to researchers.

Keats

Centuries of the Bristlecone

A Living Calendar on Mount Washington

by Jonathon Keats

In pre-Classical Greece, time was kept by cicadas’ songs, the flowering of artichokes, and the migration of cranes. Ballads recounted these annual events, and provided their interpretation. (When the cranes migrated, it was time to plow the fields.) Although constellations also provided guidance, celestial authority was contingent in this three-thousand-year-old calendar, with days arbitrarily added as the stars fell out of sync with nature.

Gradually society made calendars more regular. First the moon was used, and then the sun. Julius Caesar improved the reliability of solar timekeeping by introducing the leap year. By modern reckoning, the Gregorian year is 365.2425 days long, and the movement of our planet has ceded authority to atomic clocks. Time has become abstract. The cranes are late if they migrate in November rather than October; November isn’t deemed ahead-of-schedule.

Undoubtedly the Gregorian calendar is useful for keeping dental appointments and managing multinational corporations. But is it worthy of our trust? Is it more valid than the sounding of cicadas and flowering of artichokes? Should we value mathematical exactitude over ground truth? Working in collaboration with the Long Now Foundation and the Nevada Museum of Art, I plan to provide an alternative to Gregorian time by bringing the calendar back to life.

At the core of my calendrical system will be the most long-lived of timekeepers: Pinus longaeva, commonly known as the bristlecone pine tree. Bristlecone pines have a lifespan that can exceed five thousand years, making the oldest more ancient than Greek civilization. They keep count of the years with annual ring growth, a natural calendar prized by dendroclimatologists because it’s irregular. The thickness of each ring is a measure of environmental conditions in a given year. The growing girth of the tree thus clocks environmental time cumulatively. Sited on Long Now property atop Mount Washington, my living calendars will do so for the next five millennia, visibly tracking time as lived on our planet.

Here is the vision: Around each bristlecone pine will be arranged a double spiral of large stone pillars, indicating the girth the bristlecone can be expected to have in 500 years, 1,000 years and more, as extrapolated from the current average annual ring growth for Mount Washington bristlecones. Each of the stones will be incised with the appropriate year. The steady development of the tree – and concomitant increase of the tree’s diameter – will turn over each successive pillar with the completion of each consecutive time increment, thereby indicating the approximate date. However, as climate change alters the living landscape, the calendar will fall out of step with Gregorian years. Through time, each bristlecone will bear witness to human activity in the Anthropocene. The meaning of the living calendar will change with the changes we bring to the environment.

Naturally there are myriad ways in which these calendars will defy expectations. Most certainly some will grow faster than others, subject to fluctuations in microclimates on the mountain, each differently impacted by global climate change. Also bristlecone pines typically grow irregularly, the harshness of their environment recorded in the contour of their trunks. Depending on what transpires in their vicinity, they may turn over pillars out of order. Or a trees may die prematurely, time frozen in hardwood that will take many millennia to decompose.

These uncertainties are integral to the concept. In these calendars, time is alive with contingencies. Through these calendars, we’ll come to terms with where prediction fails us: the limitations of what we can know about the future, and the threat of hubris.

Keats
Under the stewardship of Long Now, Mount Washington will host five stone spirals around five trees of different ages at different altitudes. Beginning in the year 2020 – when we anticipate construction to be complete – voyagers will visit each calendar in turn, discovering the date by reading the stones.

Centuries of the Bristlecone will encourage people to visit Mount Washington who might otherwise never see it. Yet these mountain calendars will probably be experienced primarily by word of mouth – a living myth. For that reason, there will be a more broadly accessible dimension to the project: A sixth bristlecone pine will be configured with an electronic dendrometer, an instrument that wraps around the tree trunk, precisely measuring diameter. Data from the dendrometer will be relayed by satellite to a computer that will calculate an exact date based on the tree’s daily increase in girth. The computer will control a monumental mechanical calendar situated in downtown Reno at the Nevada Museum of Art.

Additionally the dendrometer will control a variable Bristlecone Time Protocol, accessible online and via an app for smartphone and smartwatch. The protocol will provide a precise digital indication of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years according to the growth of the tree on Mt. Washington.

The bristlecone date will thereby become a fully viable (if notoriously unreliable) alternative to the Gregorian date. People will be able to choose which calendar to follow, and, in the ensuing confusion, will be forced to confront the discrepancy. Is time a universal abstraction or grounded in lived experience? Each calendar will carry conflicting authority, much as stars and artichokes did in pre-Classical Greece.

“100 Years of Robot Art and Science in the Bay Area” Long Conversation November 20th 02015

Posted on Monday, November 16th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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Running Machine and Dual Mule

On November 20, 02015, our Executive Director Alexander Rose is helping organize a free “Long Conversation” about the history of robots with UC Berkeley’s Ken Goldberg at “Friday Nights at the DeYoung”.

The event starts at 6:30, with doors at 6:00pm in the Koret Auditorium of the De Young Museum.

A “Long Conversation” is a relay style speaking event. In this case, it is a 2 hour relay of 10 minute public conversations between 11 pairs of speakers who will be speaking on “100 Years of Robot Art and Science in the Bay Area”. The conversation is part of a larger exhibit honoring the 100 year anniversary of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The participants of this conversation include:

  • Josette Melchor (Grey Area Foundation for the Arts)
  • Dorothy R. Santos (writer, curator)
  • Tim Roseborough (artist, musician, former Kimball Artist-in-Residence)
  • John Markoff (author of Machines of Loving Grace)
  • Karen Marcelo (dorkbotSF)
  • David Pescovitz (Institute for the Future)
  • Catharine Clark (Catharine Clark Gallery)
  • Alexander Rose (director, Long Now Foundation)
  • Pieter Abbeel (professor, Computer Sciences, UC Berkeley)
  • Terry Winograd (Computer Science department, Stanford Univeristy)
  • Kal Spelletich (Seeman)
  • Artist Jenny Odell, who will be providing live images (VJing)

Friday Nights at the de Young are after-hours art happenings that include a mix of live music, dance and theater performances, film screenings, panel discussions, lectures, artist demonstrations, hands-on art activities, and exhibition tours. Local artists conduct drop-in workshops, debut new commissions, display their art in the Kimball Education Gallery, and take part in conversations about the creative process. The café offers a delicious prix-fixe menu and specialty cocktails, and the Hamon Tower observation level is open until 8 pm. Artists-in-Residence, curators, scholars, and arts educators play active roles in making Friday Nights an engaging museum experience.

We hope to see you there.

“The Forty Part Motet” by Janet Cardiff Arrives Next Door to The Interval

Posted on Friday, November 13th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art co-present the California debut of Janet Cardiff’s immersive sound installation The Forty Part Motet at the newly opened Gallery 308, right next door to The Interval. The Forty Part Motet is a 40-part choral performance of English composer, Thomas Tallis’s 16th-century composition Spem in Alium, sung by the Salisbury Cathedral Choir. The performance is played in a 14-minute loop that includes 11 minutes of singing and 3 minutes of intermission.

Individually recorded parts are projected through 40 speakers arranged inward in an oval formation, allowing visitors to walk throughout the installation, listening to individual voices along with the whole. Cardiff’s layering of voices creates an emotionally evocative sound sculpture that feels intimate, even within a public space.

Admission is free. Advance tickets are strongly recommended in the first weeks due to limited capacity, although same day walk-up tickets will be offered as available. The piece is open from 12pm to 8pm Wednesdays through Sundays from November 14, 02015 to January 18, 02016 –  do come by The Interval for a cocktail or coffee afterwards!

Member Discount for “Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art”

Posted on Friday, October 23rd, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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Long Now is proud to be a co-partner with YBCA in showing “Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art”. The film will be shown at 7:30 PM on Thursday October 29 and 2:00 PM on Sunday November 1 at YBCA’s Screening Room.

Troublemakers unearths the history of land art, featuring a cadre of renegades who sought to transcend the limitations of painting and sculpture by producing earthworks on a monumental scale. Iconoclasts who changed the landscape of art forever, these revolutionary, antagonistic creatives risked their careers on radical artistic change and experimentation, and took on the establishment to produce art on their own terms. The film includes rare footage and interviews which unveil the enigmatic lives and careers of storied artists Robert Smithson (Spiral Jetty), Walter De Maria (The Lightning Field), and Michael Heizer (Double Negative). (2015, 72 min, digital)

Long Now Members get $8 discounted tickets to the screening, check your email for instructions on how to reserve your discounted member tickets. Troublemakers will be shown in other cities as well, check here for your local screening.