There are songs that are short. Another one seems to take too long. It is talked about in the German city of Halberstadt for good reason. There the song will be performed, which will last 639 years. How? With an organ work by John Cage called ORGAN2 / ASLSP – As SLow as Possible (as slowly as possible). It will remain in resonance until 2640. Halberstadt is a city in the state of Saxony-Anhalt.
The slow start
The performance began on September 5, 2001. It was the 89th anniversary of the birth of avant-garde composer and artist John Cage. There was a 17 month break. Finally, the first sound was heard from the organ built specifically for this project. At first it seemed like a utopian idea. But it became one of the most innovative art projects in the world. Cage’s appearance in Halberstadt fascinates listeners all over the world.
John Cage created ASLSP in 1985 in a version for piano. He transcribed it for organ in 1987 at the request of organist Gerd Zacher. In 1997 the question arose of how to understand “as slowly as possible” and how to play it. Organists, musicologists and organ builders discussed the performance techniques and aesthetic aspects of the work. It was believed that it would play “as slowly as possible” at least as long as the life of an organ would be. And as long as there is peace and creativity in future generations. A project emerged from this aesthetic question.
In 1361, the world’s first large organ was built in Halberstadt. It was the “Blockwerk” organ. This instrument was the first to have a full keyboard with 12 keys per octave. It is used in all keyboard instruments to this day. In 2000, 639 years had passed since that day. And this number is set as the duration of the performance of the work “As SLow as Possible” by John Cage: 639 years.
The chosen location was the Burchardi Church. It is one of the oldest churches in the city and was built in 1050. It functioned as a Cistercian monastery for more than 600 years. It was partially destroyed during the 30 Years War. It was rebuilt in 1711. For 190 years the building served as a barn, shed, liquor distillery and pig farm.
Johann-Peter Hinz rediscovered this Romanesque church for the realization of this extraordinary project. The song, which will last 639 years, fascinates many people all over the world. Currently you can hear the first sounds made by the pipes of a small organ. While doing “as slow as possible” it will continue to grow.
It is a milestone in our dizzying times. This project seems to be an attempt to slow it down. A form of “slow discovery”. Take it easy now and enjoy every chord. Perhaps your grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren will enjoy it too.