It used to be that the length of a song was limited by the maximum capacity of the recording media.
With 78s, you couldn’t have a track much more than four minutes. To get six on a 45 was pushing it. An LP? Probably maxed out at around 24 minutes. Cassettes could be pushed to 60 minutes. A CD starts to get cranky after 75 minutes.
But in the world of electronic media, there’s no limit to how long a recording can be. Naturally, some people are interested in exploring the limits of this.
Chris Butler, the composer who wrote Christmas Wrapping for the Waitresses, had his 68 minute, 500-verse song The Devil Glitch nominated for a Grammy in 1998. He’s since expanded it to two hours and 53 minutes and renamed it The Major Glitch.
Not content with releasing a six hour song called I Found This Star on the Ground, The Flaming Lips issued the 24-hour-long 7 Skies H3 on a USB key set inside a real human skull. They sold all 13 copies for $5,000 each.
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But then we come to Daniel Starr-Tambor, who has written a piece called Mandala. It’s complicated, but it involves in assigning each planet in the solar system a music note and harnessing the rhythmic elements of our corner of the universe. From there, it gets complicated.
But the numbers are mind-boggling. Using these parameters and the 62 vigintillion individual notes (that’s 62 followed by 63 zeroes) available, Mandala will last 532,250,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years. And once it’s over, it’s time for the extended dance mix, of course.
Alan is the host of the radio show The Secret History of Rock. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org