Infinite Music ∞ Makes It Last Forever

You’ll have to wait hundreds of years to hear the end of these ‘deep-time’ songs

GIF by David Szakaly

Ambient music’s founding father Brian Eno released Reflection at the beginning of the year, a 54-minute long track which he intended to be in the vein of his 1985 piece Thursday Afternoon. Although the latter runs for longer, at an hour, there’s a second version of Reflection that runs for much longer than both — combined. If you’re willing to pay $31, a downloadable app version lets users render their own remixes of Reflection, to rearrange the track into a unique, never-ending player: Eno calls this form of the infinity “generative music.”

The app and its impetus are part of a long-running tradition — emphasis on “long-running” — of artists defying the temporal bounds of music. Deep-time music refers to works that cannot be listened to and then analyzed all within simply a matter of minutes, or hours even. You’ll have to wait hundreds of years before most of the works listed below are even a third of the way through.


John Cage’s “Organ²/ASLSP (As Slow as Possible)”

There isn’t a set tempo for “As Slow As Possible” — that’s self-explanatory from the title. This variance has allowed manifold interpretations on its (lack of) tempo with performances running from 70-ish minutes to an entire day. And then there’s the ongoing performance set to last a total 639 years. A pipe organ was specially built for the composition at the Halberstadt Cathedral in Germany; it’s constantly droning, blocks are moved along the organ every few years to mark a chord change, and supporters can sponsor a note for a year with a donation of $1000.

Jem Finer’s “Longplayer”

Since December 31, 1999, this composition has been in concert at the Trinity Buoy Wharf in East London; it’s conclusion will be precisely 1,000 years after that date (a nice, round number). Finer has helmed a career — when not playing banjo in The Pogues — in evincing the nature of deep time through installation, film, and photography. Autonomously generating chime tones through a computer program and system of motherboards as we speak, “Longplayer” is the grail to his fascination with deep time. The composition is streamable online and through its iOS app, and portions have been performed live by ensembles sporadically.

GIF by David Szakaly

Bull of Heaven

When it comes to sprawling song durations that are defined, even compared to those of Finer and Cage, Bull of Heaven are the champions. Over the course of their oeuvre, they’ve bested only themselves with each subsequent release: 2011’s “286: 0” is just about (not a typo) 30 million hours, while 2014’s “302: It is Part of Space and Time” goes for (neither is this a typo) some 86 billion years. Whether the duo of Clayton Counts and Neil Keener are computerizing material or doing live instrumentation, covering territory that ranges from ambient drone to prog rock, Bull of Heaven journey towards infinity through use of undying repetition. A live-studio track like “Self-Traitor, I Do Bring the Spider Love” runs just under an hour-and-a-half; while they use computer looping to repeat a passage to play longer — like, a billion years longer.

The Shepard Tone

Roger Shepard is one of the most important figures in cognitive science, but in 1964 he programmed a musical experiment that’d eventually be co-opted by the likes of Pink Floyd, Regina Spektor, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. By layering two ascending scales on top of each other, and adjusting their respective volumes to increase and soften at a specific rate, he conceived the Shepard Tone. For as long as it’s played, it sounds like a single scale, infinitely ascending yet remaining within the same octave range. The two layered scales can also be programmed to descend instead, so it’ll sound like a single infinitely descending scale. This is the quintessential auditory illusion.

GIF by Erik Soderberg

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s ‘Nonagon Infinity’

So far Australian psychedelic rock band King Gizzard have released the first, as well as announced the second, of five albums ostensibly slated for 2017. Although last year’s amount of material pales in comparison to this year’s projected heap of discography, the sole album they released was easily one of 2016’s most ambitious, nonetheless. On Nonagon Infinity, each song bleeds seamlessly into the next, before you can even refer to the tracklist and try to figure out where exactly you are within the duration of the album. And here’s the kicker: the last track (“Road Train”) plays right back into the opener (“Robot Stop”). Wikipedia lists the total run-time for Nonagon in a single listen; next to it is the infinity symbol (∞) in parentheses. Pull the album up on a streaming service and hit repeat, suddenly this inexorable psych rock force becomes eternal.

Infinite Jukebox

“For when your favorite song just isn’t long enough.” Type a song into Infinite Jukebox’s search bar, or upload a new song to its database — the software will break it down and rebuild it into an infinite player. Created by Paul Lamere, who heads the music intelligence company Echo Nest, Infinite Jukebox analyzes the tempo and the different sections of a given song, conceiving a new pattern out of its sections that ends up rendering the song endless. Like Eno’s generative music, Infinite Jukebox programs a unique pattern upon each listen.

GIF by David Szakaly