How long does a song have to last before you’d call it long? 5 minutes? 15 minutes? An hour? Some Indian ragas last more than 3 hours. That’s long by Western tastes but not to fans of the genre. That said, there’s a category of music where a song not only lasts for years, but even decades or centuries. It’s called Infinite Music (more about it here), and there are more practitioners than you might think.
As you might expect, Brian Eno (who originated the Ambient Music genre) has a version of his 1985 “Thursday Afternoon” piece with a downloadable player that can be remixed to play virtually forever. Minimalist John Cage currently has a piece playing on a pipe organ that was specially built for the composition (see the video below) at the Halberstadt Cathedral in Germany that’s slated to last 639 years! It’s called “As Slow As Possible, ” and blocks are moved along the organ every few years to mark a chord change. Supporters can sponsor a note for a year with a donation of $1000.
That’s pretty long, but Jem Finer probably gets the prize with his 2011 “286: 0” that’s lasts about 30 million hours (not a typo), while 2014’s “302: It is Part of Space and Time” goes for some 86 billion years (also for real). Clayton Counts and Neil Keener are have a piece called “Bull of Heaven” that uses repetition to make their competitions live as long as you can stand it.
I found the Shepard Tone especially intriguing (see the video below). Roger Shepard made his mark in cognitive science, but in 1964 he created a musical experiment that’d would later be copied by the likes of Pink Floyd and Regina Spektor. It comes from layering two ascending scales on top of each other and adjusting their respective volumes to increase and soften at a specific rate so it sounds like a single scale that keeps climbing seemingly forever. You can program it to descend as well.
There are many other examples of Infinite Music, more than you’d think in fact, and in many cases they will outlast us all. That said, I’m looking forward to the day when the Shepard Tone makes the top 40.