For one organ concert currently being played at a German church, every chord change makes international news. That’s because this performance of avant-garde composer John Cage’s “Organ²/ASLSP” is slated to last centuries. In 1985, when Cage (1912–1992) wrote a piano version of what later became “Organ²/ASLSP,” he directed musicians to play his notes “as slowly as possible.” They’ve complied.
The performance began on what would have been Cage’s 89th birthday: September 5, 2001. A collection of music aficionados, scholars, and former collaborators planned a one-of-a-kind tribute to Cage in Halberstadt, Germany, where the first modern keyboard organ is thought to have originated. They dreamed up a performance that would last as long as the Halberstadt instrument, believed to have been built in the city’s cathedral in 1361. Since that was 639 years before the turn of the millennium in 2000, the group settled on a 639-year concert. A custom organ was constructed at the medieval church of St. Burchardi in Halberstadt. The performance opened with a 17-month pause, and one chord lasted nearly seven years. (Sandbags, moved by human hands, weigh down the pedals to engage the organ’s pipes.) As of spring 2022, only 15 chord changes have occurred. So far, private donors have raised about $1.2 million to fund the project, but more is needed for the concert to continue uninterrupted all the way through its scheduled end — in 2640.
While “Organ²/ASLSP” is slow, it is not the longest music composition or the longest recital. English banjoist Jem Finer — a founding member of the Celtic punk band the Pogues — holds those world records for his original work “Longplayer.” With help from a bank of London computers, Finer has sequenced six of his short pieces to play simultaneously on a set of Tibetan singing bowls located in the lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf, overlooking the River Thames. The concert started in the first moment of January 1, 2000, and no sound combination will repeat until the final second of December 31, 2999.