How slow is "As slow as possible"?
On Wednesday, in the church of the German town of Halberstadt, at an exactly predetermined moment moment, the officials pulled two pipes out of the organ — and the mode of the music changed. Such changes will go on for 639 years, i.e. for the length of time it will take to play John Cage’s organ2/ASLSP in this interpretation of “as slow as possible,” the tempo proposed by the composer. It will thus take 25 generations or so to hear this version of the piece through (as far as I know trhere are no plans to record it…) — in its previous (1985) version it was 29 minutes long. Here are some more details & explanations on this fascinating project & of why it will come to last 639 years, from the project’s site:
The pace indication „as slow as possible” for the organ piece „Organ 2/ASLSP” by John Cage poses this question. In 1985 ASLSP was created as a version for the piano but in 1987 John Cage changed it for the organ at the suggestion of the organist Gerd Zacher. 10 years after that, in 1997, on a symposium for organs in Trossingen, the question how one can understand „as slow as possible” and how one should perform the piece came up. Organists, musicologists, organbuilding workers, theologians and philosophers talk about the technical, the aesthetic and the philosophical aspects that can meet the title and the piece. The question of how to realise the opus leads to the conclusion that „as slow as possible” can be thought and played indefinetly – at least as long as the life of an organ is and also as long as peace and creativity in the following generations exists. From that question a project was developed over the time that caused a sensation worldwide. But why Halberstadt? In 1361 the famous Blockwerk organ was constructed. This organ stood in the cathedral of Halberstadt and was the first one with a claviature of 12 notes. Even this very day the scheme of this claviature is used on our keyboard instruments. So one can say that the cradle of modern music was in Halberstadt. In the year 2000, 639 years have passed after the „fatal day of Halberstadt” (Harry Partch) the play of Cage „as slow as possible” will be performed for 639 years. The place will be St. Burchardi one of the oldest churches of the city. Built around 1050 by Burchard of Nahburg, this church functioned as Cistercian convent for more than 600 years. In the 30 years lasting war, St. Burchardi was partially destroyed but rebuild in 1711 and secularized by Jérome in 1810. For 190 years the church was used as a barn, a hovel, a distillery and a sty.
St. Buchardi was rediscovered by Johann-Peter Hinz for this extraordinary project that can rouse the fascination of many people in the world. With the assistence of the city of Halberstadt and the help of private persons St. Burchardi is cleaned, to save it from the rain it got a new roof, new windows were installed and the church as a whole was protected in its substance so that a pair of bellows in accord with the first faber organ could be build. Today we can listen to the first triad out of six organ whistles in one small organ that grows during the performance: „as slow as possible”. In view of our fast moving age this plan is a way of trying to slowdown, the „discovery of slowness” and the planting of an „musical apple tree” can be understood as a symbol of confidence in the future. St. Burchardi can be visited from Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m..
The Cage-organ is designed and built by the organbuilder Romanus F. Seifert & Son with the assistance of Reinhard Hüfken-Orgelbau from Halberstadt