John Cage’s 639-Year-Long Composition Gets a Chord Change

The next one won't happen until 2022

Sound change in Halberstadt
Soprano Johanna Vargas and composer Julian Lembke use the organ pipes.
Matthias Bein/picture alliance via Getty Images

Doom metal has nothing on John Cage. Perhaps you’ve sat around listening to the music of Sunn 0))) and thought, “This music is very slow.” Well, there’s slow and then there’s “takes over 600 years to finish playing” slow. Among the many works of composer and mushroom enthusiast John Cage is “Organ2/ASLSP,” otherwise known as “As Slow As Possible.” Its score is 8 pages long; played by a musician, it would be over in 60 to 70 minutes.

The John Cage Organ Project has something a little grander in mind. In a centuries-old church in the German town of Halberstadt sits a unique organ playing Cage’s composition over the course of 639 years. It began in 2001, and is set to reach the end of the piece in the year 2640.

At Stereogum, Peter Helman has the details of this weekend’s event — which drew a small but dedicated crowd to the church. Usually such events draw thousands, but the pandemic played a role in reducing this year’s crowd. A video of the event shows what such a chord change looks like, beginning at 3 hours and 31 minutes into the footage.

A compressor supplies the organ with air, allowing it to sustain notes for such a long period of time. This particular note will last for well over a year; according to Stereogum’s article, the next chord change is scheduled for February 5, 2022.

And, roughly 620 years from now, this performance of a John Cage piece will end. If you’d like a sense of scale there, 620 years ago, Henry IV was King of England.

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