As Slow As Possible

As Slow As Possible (ASLSP or ASAP) is a musical piece composed by John Cage in 1985 for piano. Typically a performance of the piano piece lasts for about 20 minutes. Around 2 years later Cage reworked the piece to be played on an organ.

Move forward in time about ten years (a mere eyeblink as you will see), in 1997, a group of musicians and philosophers discussed the implications of his instruction to play the piece “as slow as possible”, now given that unlike a piano where the sound dies away after the string is struck, an organ keeps playing a note until the key is released (or the rubber band runs down), this means that “As Slow As Possible” could take a very long time indeed.

Move forward a few more years and a project emerges to perform the piece in the St. Burchardi church in Halberstadt, Germany and it’s going to take a total of 639 years to play. Which is a seriously extreme interpretation of the title.

Why 639 years?

Glad you asked. This length was decided based on the estimated lifespan of the organ.

You see the St. Burchardi church was built in the year 1361, the first big organ had been constructed in that church. And the performance was due to start in 2000, 639 years late.
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So after a bit of toing and froing, and attending to some minor details like building a new organ, the actual performance commenced in the St. Burchardi church on September 5, 2001 (Cage was born on September 5), ironically the piece begins with a rest… that lasts about a year and a half, until February 5, 2003. The first chord was played from then until July 5, 2005. There was a chord change just recently. and the next two are in 2008. The performance is planned to continue until September 4, 2640.

To help you plan your trip, here is the game plan for the first 60plus years from the ASLSP – John-Cage-Orgelprojekt Halberstadt website.

Klangwechsel

John Cage ORGAN2/ASLSP, 639 Jahre, Teil 1
K = Klang Anfang, P = Pause / Klang Ende

P:

Impuls 1: 5. 09. 2001
Impuls 2: K: gis’, h’, gis’’ 5. 02. 2003
Impuls 3: K: e, e’ 5. 07. 2004
Impuls 4: P: gis’, h’ 5. 07. 2005
Impuls 5: K: a’, c’’, fis’’ 5. 01. 2006
Impuls 6: P: e, e’ 5. 05. 2006
Impuls 7: K: c’, as’ 5. 07. 2008
Impuls 8: P: c’ 5. 11. 2008
Impuls 9: K: d’, e’’ 5. 02. 2009
Impuls10: P: e’’ 5. 07. 2010
Impuls11: P: d’, gis’’ 5. 02. 2011
Impuls12: K/P:   c’(16’), des’(16’), as’   5. 08. 2011
Impuls13: P: a’, c’’, fis’’ 5. 07. 2012
Impuls14: K: dis’, ais’, e’’ 5. 10. 2013
Impuls15: K: gis, e’ 5. 09. 2020
Impuls16: P: gis 5. 02. 2022
Impuls17: K: d’ 5. 02. 2024
Impuls18: K: a’ 5. 08. 2026
Impuls19: P: e’ 5. 10. 2027
Impuls20: K: g 5. 04. 2028
Impuls21: P: d’ 5. 08. 2028
Impuls22: P: a’ 5. 03. 2030
Impuls23: P: dis’, e’’ 5. 09. 2030
Impuls24: P: g 5. 05. 2033
Impuls25: K: h 5. 12. 2033
Impuls26: K: f, d’ 5. 08. 2034
Impuls27: P: f, d’ 5. 09. 2034
Impuls28: P: h 5. 10. 2034
Impuls29: K: des’’ 5. 06. 2035
Impuls30: K/P: A (16’)des’’ 5. 09. 2037
Impuls31: K: as’, as’’ 5. 03. 2038
Impuls32: P: as’’ 5. 07. 2038
Impuls33: P: as’ 5. 05. 2039
Impuls34: K: d’, as’ 5. 12. 2039
Impuls35: P: d’, as’ 5. 04. 2040
Impuls36: K: des, b 5. 01. 2041
Impuls37: P: des, b 5. 03. 2042
Impuls38: P: A (16’) 5. 11. 2043
Impuls39: K: a, d’ 5. 07. 2044
Impuls40: K/P: e’ais’ 5. 03. 2045
Impuls41: K: h’, c’’, ais’’ 5. 03. 2046
Impuls42: P: c’(16’), h’, c’’, ais’’ 5. 10. 2047
Impuls43: K: c (16’) 5. 02. 2049
Impuls44: K: dis’, a’ 5. 04. 2050
Impuls45: P: a, d’, e’ 5. 02. 2051
Impuls46: P: dis’, a’ 5. 11. 2051
Impuls47: K: es, h 5. 05. 2053
Impuls48: P: c (16’) 5. 11. 2054
Impuls49: P: es, h 5. 07. 2056
Impuls50: K: b’ 5. 08. 2057
Impuls51: K: A (16’) 5. 05. 2058
Impuls52: P: A (16’) 5. 11. 2059
Impuls53: K: ges’, c’’, des’’ 5. 04. 2060
Impuls54: P: ges’, c’’, des’’ 5. 06. 2060
Impuls55: K/P: e’b’ 5. 11. 2060
Impuls56: K: h’, c’’, es’’, c’’’ 5. 02. 2061
Impuls57: P: c’’, es’’, c’’’ 5. 04. 2061
Impuls58: K/P: d’e’ 5. 09. 2061
Impuls59: K: ais, dis’, fis’ 5. 08. 2062
Impuls60: P: ais, fis’ 5. 02. 2064
Impuls61: K/P: a, a’dis’ 5. 01. 2067
Impuls62: P: d’ 5. 06. 2067
Impuls63: P: a, a’ 5. 07. 2068
Impuls64: P: des’(16’) 5. 03. 2071
Impuls65: P: h’ 5. 07. 2071

Ende Teil 1: 4. 09. 2072
Anfang Teil 2: 5. 09. 2072

And so on until 2639 the final of the performance

So this isn’t music that you can tap your feet to or sing along with. But then again very little that Cage did was. At the moment I find it most fascinating that all of the interest is in the chord changes rather than the drone of the notes. Why are we always attracted to the “border conditions”, the places and times where stuff transforms into something new, maybe that’s what Cage wanted us to see? Well in this case there about 634 years to figure it out.

DANIEL J. WAKIN of The New York Times wrote a great article entitled “An Organ Recital for the Very, Very Patient” and there is some more info available at the invaluable wikipedia.

Oh and if you were wondering about power outages, they have solar power cells and a backup generator on hand in case the electricity is interrupted.

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