Worth the wait?

Well, I’m back in the office for the first time in six months, surrounded by hand sanitisers and risk assessments, one child has returned to school for her final year after in effect six months off, another will be leaving home in a week to start university in a place currently under a local lockdown, so my head’s full of concerns and anxieties I don’t wish to think more about here thank you very much. So let’s put all that to one side and relax with some music.

John Cage, the man behind a much loved piece of nothing, perhaps hadn’t realised how literally some people would take his instruction to play ‘as slow as possible’ when performing one of his compositions. Piano notes eventually fade away, but notes on an organ can be held indefinitely.

A 639-year-long John Cage organ performance has a long-awaited chord change todayClassic FM
Organ2/ASLSP, ‘As Slow as Possible’ is a keyboard work written by John Cage in the mid-1980s. The score consists of eight pages of music, to be played at the piano or organ, well, very, very slowly. […] Up until this time, the most recent note change occurred on 5 October 2013, and the next change will sound on 5 September 2020, with the organ playing a G sharp and an E, until the next scheduled chord change on 5 February 2022.

The concert (installation art performance? sculptural exhibition?) is taking place in Halberstadt, in Germany, thought to be the place where the first modern keyboard organ was built in 1361, 639 years before the turn of the 21st century, hence the duration of this piece.

A 639-year concert, with no intermission for coronavirusThe New York Times
Andreas Henke, the town’s mayor, said that most of Halberstadt’s inhabitants probably didn’t even know about the piece, or, if they did, they referred to it as “that cacophony.” But, he added, “John Cage carries Halberstadt’s name out into the world.”He said the performance raises “philosophical questions about how we confront time.” “We are all so consumed by our daily working lives,” he said. “This forces us to stand back and slow down. It is very special to be a part of an art project that will connect generations and last for generations,” Mr. Henke added. He said that it was “his great hope” that the project would make it to 2640.

Of course it was livestreamed, but see if you can resist the urge not to fast-forward to the chord change moment, three hours and twenty minutes in…

Too subtle a change for me, I think. It’s an interesting idea, though: if you remove the human from the music-making process, you remove the need to constrain time to human scales. But without the human, can we still comprehend it as music? A drone that lasts for years and years just reminds me of my tinnitus.

Author: Terry Madeley

Works with student data and enjoys reading about art and design, data, education and technology.

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