In Praise of As Slow As Possible (Organ²/ASLSP – the longest musical performance ever)

As Slow As Possible
Not the actual As Slow As Possible organ.

Ever fond of weird stuff like this, we recently stumbled across John Cage’s magnificent composition As Slow As Possible. The performance of this piece, which was written for organ in 1987, began in 2001, and is projected to last for 639 years. Yes, that means it’ll end when we’re all dead – September 5th, 2640. Here’s a brilliant joke for you: we bet the Rolling Stones will still be rocking away!

As Slow As Possible (Organ²/ASLSP)

Now, the performance began on September 5th, 2001, but as the organ involved is so slow, it didn’t make a noise until February 5th, 2003. There wasn’t a change of chord until July 5th, 2005. It was six months until the next one, with several more following every six months or so, but the last change was on October 13th, 2013. In case you were on the edge of your seat wondering, the next one isn’t due until September 5th, 2020.

This is all located in a church out in the town of Halberstadt in Germany. This place was apparently devastated during WWII, but has now been rebuilt and looks rather charming indeed. But why does it exist? Well, in 1997 it was agreed an organ should be used for Cage’s piece as it doesn’t impose any real time limits – a pipe organ, apparently, doesn’t have a sell by date. It’s not going to go off like, for instance, one of Keith Moon’s drum kits.

Thusly, in St. Burchardi church, the performance began. There’s a device called the bellow which provides a strong gust of air to maintain the note, whilst weights and pipes are changed intermittently (it’s not a stressful job, updating the organ once ever few years) to keep the concert going.

What’s this project about? Well, Cage (who died in 1992 aged 79) was a composer and music theorist. He liked indeterminacy, meaning elements of any given piece are open to chance and/or interpretation. As you’d expect, he also championed non-conformist use of instruments. Cage’s piece, which was first intended to be a 20 minute piano romp, was taken by Swedish composer Hans-Ola Ericsson and a troop of theologians, musicologists, philosophers, composers, and organists – the result is As Slow As Possible. Mega.

As Fast As Possible

Anyway, to save you all waiting for the next 639 years, some kind soul decided the play Cage’s piece as fast as possible. The result doesn’t sound great, but at least we know some of the chord changes that are in store for the generations to come. This certainly fits in with Cage’s avant-garde approach to music, but the bigger question here is will As Slow As Possible see out its 639 year run?

That will be a time fraught with danger – the potential for the concert’s disruption over such a long time period is high. We have the potential for another world war, climate change, alien invasion, asteroid impact, or maybe people will just get sort of fed up with music in, say, 2303 and smash the organ up like philistines. Only time will tell.

4 comments

  1. This guy Cage has to be one of my favourite composers. I can actually play his 4’33”, note perfect, every time without even practising. Usually it’s a challenge for me to play ‘Chopsticks’ but thanks to Cage my performing skills jumped to those of any great concert pianist with a stopwatch.

    Liked by 1 person

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