Tue, Jul 13, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Three years since the first, now a second chord change

A piece by American avant-garde composer John Cage being performed in Germany started in 2001 and won't end until 2639. Mark the finale in your calendars

AFP , Halberstadt, Germany

Arelative rush of activity broke out here this week in the world's slowest and longest lasting concert as two new notes sounded in a piece of music that is taking a total of 639 years to perform in its entirety.

The abandoned Buchardi church in Halberstadt, eastern Germany, is the venue for a mind-boggling 639-year-long performance of a piece of music by US experimental composer John Cage (1912-1992).

Entitled organ2/ASLSP (or "As SLow aS Possible"), the performance began nearly three years ago on Sept. 5, 2001 and is scheduled to last until 2639.

The first year and half of the performance was total silence, with the first chord -- G-sharp, B and G-sharp -- not sounding until Feb. 2, last year.

But things really got going yesterday as two additional Es, an octave apart, were sounded, being held down by weights on an organ being built especially for the project.

Cage originally conceived ASLSP in 1985 as a 20-minute work for piano, subsequently transcribing it for organ in 1987.

But organizers of the John Cage Organ Project decided to take the composer at his word and stretch out the performance for 639 years, using Cage's transcription for organ.

The enormous running time was chosen to commemorate the creation of Halberstadt's historic Blockwerk organ in 1361 -- 639 years before the current project started.

That original organ, built by Nikolaus Faber for Halberstadt's cathedral, was the first organ ever to be used for liturgical purposes, ringing in a new era in which the organ has played a central role in church music ever since.

As part of Halberstadt's John Cage Organ Project, a brand-new organ is being built specially, with new pipes added in time for when new notes are scheduled to sound.

The next chord progression will take place on March 5, 2006, when the two Es that sounded on Monday will be released and the previous G-sharp, B and G-sharp chord that has sounded since February last year will change to a new chord of A, C and F-sharp.

Cage was a pupil of one of the 20th century's most influential composers, Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951).

Cage's avant-garde oeuvre includes works such as the notorious 4'33", a piece for orchestra comprising four minutes and 33 seconds of total silence, all meticulously notated.

The organizers of the John Cage Organ Project say the record-breaking performance in Halberstadt also has a philosophical background -- to "rediscover calm and slowness in today's fast-changing world."

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