Monday, February 05, 2024

The longest piece of music, ever

You may have heard of avant-garde American composer John Cage's famous piece 4'33", which calls for an orchestra to perform four minutes and thirty-three seconds of complete silence. It's an interesting conceit. Or, depending on your outlook, you might see it as just plain daft. Certainly, it's one of those things about which people will say, "But is it art?", which other people would argue just proves that it is indeed art.

Anyway, what I didn't know is that Cage also wrote another piece, for piano or organ, called Organ2/ASLSP (As Slow As Possible). It is a very simple piece, the score covering just eight pages, with no exact tempo specified, although the title makes the composer's wishes pretty clear.

The work's first performance, in 1987, lasted just under 30 minutes. But then performers started taking the instruction in the title more seriously, and a 2009 performance lasted 14 hours and 56 minutes. 

But another performance, using a specially-constructed organ in Burchardi Church in the German town of Halberstadt, began in 2001 and it may never be outdone. The mechanical organ uses an electronic wind machine to push air into the pipes, while sandbags keep the keys pressed down.

The performance is planned to take 639 years, finishing in the year 2640. There have been 16 chord changes so far, with today's marking the 17th. Volunteers have added a new pipe to the organ to create the new sound. The last chord change occurred 2 years ago, and the next one is planned for 5 August 2026.

And these chord changes have become quite the tourist attraction, with large crowds in attendance, and tickets reportedly booked years in advance. But is it art? God, who cares? - this is a very cool thing.

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