The new year marked the 10th anniversary of the Longplayer project
, a musical composition that is intended to play for 1000 years. A mind boggling thought.
So far so good, but the developers of the project are concerned about the long term continuation of the piece of never repeating music. Although a computer is currently performing Longplayer, the project developers are aware present day technology will one day be obsolete. For this reason, they are seeking a non-technological and nondigital way of ensuring the survival of the composition for the next 990 years. The developers are experimenting with alternative performance methods from mechanical, non-electrical devices to human performance.
In its section of 'Survival Strategies
', the Longplayer project website asks, 'How does one keep a piece of music playing across generations? How does one prepare for its technological adaptability, knowing how few technologies have remained viable over the last millenium?'
Beyond suggesting a number of mechanical and technological possibilities, the developers believe Longplayer will only survive if people are interested in the survival of this ambitious scheme, akin to launching a probe deep into space on an unknown journey. With it being nearly impossible to predict how technology will change within even the next ten years, live human performance may be the only way of guaranteeing the continuation of Longplayer through the millennium. The first live performance of Longplayer was held in London's Roundhouse in September 2009.
2nd December 2009
The Autopsies’ museum roundtable (with guest speakers Oliver Winchester from the V&A and Alexandra Goddard from the Geffrye) engaged with some of the research group’s key concerns, namely when/how we talk about ‘things’ or ‘objects’ and the ways in which film can be used to preserve them.
With Jann Matlock chairing and contributing as a panellist, our guests were asked to discuss the various similarities and differences between their museums in the processes of curating and collating information. The Geffrye Museum, Goddard told us, acquired supporting documentation to create a ‘mise-en-scene of the object.’ This documentation included oral and written histories of the objects, as well as photographs.
Film had yet to enter their remit as a medium of preservation. At the V&A, however, Winchester described film’s utility in demonstrating to visitors how objects actually work (both panellists agreed that they dealt with ‘objects,’ although these were once people’s ‘things’).
I found this use of film fascinating. Film was not a necessary tool in the preservation of the object per se – the object itself existed within the museum space – but visitors could only understand the application of the object through moving images. The way in which museums display objects divorces them from utility. Film can help museums to design an experience of the object that gives life to what would otherwise be dead or static.
One has to consider whether it is possible to understand any object without first comprehending its ‘thing-ness.’ The iPod was used as an example: without touching it, playing with it or glancing through its menus, does it really make sense as a technology? Is there any point in simply looking at a dead object and can film help rescue it from the after-world that is the museum display? Could film help items retain their essence of ‘thing-ness’ in the face of museum objectivity?
Perhaps these are some of the questions we can take forward into the new year and put to our next selection of museum panellists.
‘A bad dream about objects that has been forced into the corporeal realm’ is Siegfried Kracauer’s description of a UFA film studio in Germany, in his essay entitled ‘Calico-World. The UFA City in Neubabelsberg’. The film studio offers a mixture of both old and new objects, stacked in a disorganised fashion, waiting to be used. Kracauer questions the authenticity of these objects that he sees on set that construct the make-belief world of cinema. Astonished by the fickleness of these objects’s lives that can be destroyed, disposed of, at any time a specific film requires it, or just ends, Kracauer remarks how objects created for the cinema are not meant to last, and yet when projected on screen these same objects attain such an immortal status.
Kracauer’s short essay on one of UFA’s studios is part of The Object Reader, edited by Fiona Candlin and Raiford Guins. The Object Reader gathers together a collection of essays on objects and the discourse that has surrounded the study of objects since the beginning of the 20th century. Divided into seven parts, this collection of essays encompasses theories on objects from the difference between object and thing; the agency and experience of objects; to objects that have been left aside, being discarded or non-functional. The book’s collection of essays springs from diverse fields of disciplinary research, ranging from anthropology, art history, film studies, to cultural studies, comprising of both classical debates and contemporary analyses of specific objects.
The Object Reader, however, lacks certain important aspects of the afterlife of objects. The book solely concentrates on objects that become pieces of rubbish once they are no longer used. Julian Stallabrass’s essay, for example, on ‘Trash’, looks at the deadness of objects once left aside on a street corner, and how their deterioration creates another life for the objects. Objects, though, live on in many different ways after their original use. Some objects live on in museums, a kind of preserving grave for an obsolete object so that future generations may be able to see it, know of its once useful existence. Old and obsolete objects are also sold in antique shops. With the growing trend of vintage shops, an essay on this aspect of dead objects being brought back to life, given a second life as it were, is missing in the section entitled ‘Leftovers’, although somewhat alluded to in Lindsay’s essay on TRS-80 computers.
Through its diversity in discourse around objects, The Object Reader suggests the personal histories that surround each object. Every object has its own diverse stories connected to it: its creation, its affective relation to an individual, a person’s experience of it, its demise and obsolescence. While the piles of objects in the UFA studio may suggest ‘empty nothingness’, being mere illusions, the careful re/constructions of these objects by the film industries imply how important these objects are in life. Just as objects create the semblance of a real historical place in films, objects are what constitute our corporeal realm.