Some Rich People, Including Jeff Bezos and Brian Eno, Are Building a Giant 10,000-Year Clock Inside a Mountain in Texas
Deep within a mountain somewhere in west Texas, The Long Now Foundation are hard at work building a 500-foot clock that’s been designed to run for 10,000 years. I know that sounds a bit like the folly of a Lone Star oil billionaire, but apparently this massive clock is going to adjust the manner in which we understand time itself, so I suppose that counts as having a purpose.
The team behind the construction—boasting names like Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired magazine and, somewhat bizarrely, Brian Eno—want the clock to help destroy the short-term thinking they believe is plaguing society. Their aim is to engage the population so we all properly consider the ways we should be preparing for the future.
The giant clock might seem a slightly excessive way to do that, but when you’ve got Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos investing £27.5 million in your project, you don’t really need to worry about excess.
Executive director Alexander Rose talked me through the concept.
VICE: Hey. So what’s up with this gigantic clock?
Alexander Rose: The clock is an iconic project to inspire other people to get the conversation going about long-term thinking. I was once giving a tour to some IBM engineers and one gentleman said, “You know, this is never going to work. In 3,000 years, they’re going to be sacrificing virgins on this thing and all the blood is going to drip into it and it’s not going to work.” And I said, “That may be, but before you walked in the door here, you weren’t thinking 3,000 years in advance, so it’s already working.”
Well, what we hope to do is make something so mythic and crazy that people want to tell stories about it and it becomes a meme that can be called upon. When people tell you that you can’t do long term things, there will always be the 10,000 year clock.
I guess so—at least until the 10,001th year. What inspired the clock, Alexander?
“The Millennium Clock,” a clock that ticked once a year, bonged once a century, and the cuckoo would come out once a millennium. If you make it “forever” or of an astronomic time scale of millions and billions of years it dwarfs the human experience and it doesn’t feel like there’s anything you can do that’s important in that time scale. So we thought, What is the human civilizational moment? If you look back to the last ice age, when agriculture started, that’s when large parts of the planet started having what we now call civilization. So that was chosen. If we can look back 10,000 years, then we can look forward 10,000 years.
Chunklet to Go-Go: The Mars Interview
Mars never made a bad album. In fact, during its fleeting, 36-month lifespan, the NYC no wave combo never made any kind of album. Having left behind a debut single and four expressionistic contributions to the scene-christening, Brian Eno-curated No New York compilation, its members parted ways in December 1978. A self-titled EP of steel-wool abstractions squeaked out shortly thereafter and consummated the group’s high-concept demolition of downtown, post-Velvets cool.
More recently, a couple of unimpeachable if bootleg-like performance snapshots, 2011’s Live at Artists Space and the freshly minted Live At Irving Plaza, both coordinated by Thurston Moore and supercritic Byron Coley for the prolific Feeding Tube label, further ennobled Mars’ primal yet forward-looking mania. The two sets’ alien psychobabble, aboriginal rhythms, and rattling, detuned guitars thoroughly rupture what were once fixed notions about the tonality, structure, and attitude that define rock music. These pivotal gigs laid the messy groundwork for nonconformist heavies ranging from Sonic Youth to the Boredoms to the Dead C to Sightings.
So why, exactly, is Mars appearing in a column concerned with aesthetic failure? The answer: a rather questionable production decision. In the mid-80s, no wave goddess-turned-spoken word siren Lydia Lunch amassed the band’s catalog into a retrospective called 78. To remix the material, she commissioned industrial imp Jim “Foetus” Thirlwell, who drowned the goods in hopelessly dated reverb, delay, and audio effects. As ghostly ambiance surpassed clarity, the most forceful tracks became smeared, debilitated echoes of their former selves.
In 2004, bassist Mark Cunningham wisely oversaw an ameliorated anthology, the excellent Mars LP: The Complete Studio Recordings NYC 1977-1978, which essentially restores the songs to their original luster. A longtime Barcelona resident and trumpet player for the electronic duo Convolution and the improv trio Bèstia Ferida, he graciously reexamined his Lower Manhattan past from his present-day Mediterranean perch.
VICE: Whose plan was it to remix the Mars stuff in the ’80s?
Mark Cunningham: The idea for the project and Jim’s involvement came from Lydia, for her label, Widowspeak. [Former Mars guitarist/vocalist] Connie Burg and I were involved with it; [guitarist/vocalist] Sumner [Crane] was in one of his hermit phases, and [drummer] Nancy [Arlen] was immersed in her art world and not too interested. The need actually came about precisely because we had no access to any master tapes, we still don’t. Maybe we just weren’t aggressive enough in pursuing them or didn’t have a legal fund. Back in the 80s and 90s, anyone who went asking for licensing rights encountered a brick wall of ignorance. At that time, mastering off vinyl and cassette sources was not easy, so Jim and Lydia felt that we could compensate by using effects and creating something with its own validity due to Jim’s studio abilities and his love of the material.