Even though I’ve lived in London for years, the fact that the city has a lighthouse within its limits is something that has eluded me, until now. Located at Trinity Buoy Wharf, it had been inactive and unlit for decades, but now a new art installation means it’s now lighting up the capital once again.

In fact, the lighthouse closed down in the 1800s, but it’s now been lit for just over a month as part of an art project entitled Sonic Ray. No, that’s not some kind of 70s Bond villain weapon or related to a certain famous blue hedgehog: the work consists of a green beam of light shone from the lighthouse toward North Greenwich. It’s being run by London arts organisation Artangel, in collaboration with Jem Finer.

Artangel has been running since the 1980s, and, despite the fact the lighthouse has only been lit for a few weeks, the wider art piece it’s part of has been running for over 2 decades. In 2000, Finer and Artangel worked together to create Longplayer, which was designed for the new millennium. Beginning on 1st January of that year, it will (barring any unfortunate errors) play a “self-extending” composition for a thousand years, until 31st December 2999. Of course, it’s unlikely anyone alive in 2000 or now will be around when it concludes, unless your name happens to be Marty McFly, or you have a TARDIS.

It's unlikely anyone alive will be around when the piece concludes...

Artist Jem Finer

The piece has however been audible to the public in a number of ways over the years, including in a part of the Millennium Dome in the year after its launch, various locations in Britain, the US, Australia and Egypt and a number of internet steams. Segments from it have been played by a live orchestra, and a number of parts have even been released on vinyl, for those of you who are into record collecting.

The piece has been audible to the public in a number of ways over the years...

Longplayer can also be heard, of course, at its source at the Bow Creek Lighthouse, which is where the light enters into things: the beam will also transmit the sound of Longplayer, and is audible on another art piece, Slice of Reality (also created in 2000) by Richard Wilson, which is essentially designed as a “slice” of an old ship and located on the north-western bank of the Greenwich Peninsula. Visitors can take a boat between the two artworks in order to listen to the piece.

 Visitors can take a boat between the two artworks in order to listen to the piece...

Sonic Ray runs from 30 September 2021 – 21 November 2021, and tickets are available on Artangel’s website. The cost for a standard admission is £7.50, with concession admissions at £5, and under 12s free of charge. Under 16s must be accompanied by an adult, presumably due to the travelling boat aspect, rather than the beam warping their minds. The running time for the “full experience” is around one and a half hours.

It's certainly cool that London's only lighthouse is now lit and functional again...

So, if you’re in the mood for green beams and a very long piece of music, the Sonic Ray installation has you covered. If nothing else, it’s certainly cool that London’s only lighthouse is now lit and functional again, even if it’s now guiding music rather than boats.


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