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Sunday, January 08, 2006

How slow is slow?

How long can a piece of music last?

639 years.
Composed in 1987, avant-garde American composer John Cage (1912-1992) adapted Organ²/ASLSP from his 1985 work ASLSP for solo piano. The title is derived from Cage's direction to play the work "as slow as possible." The John Cage Foundation has taken the composer's directive quite literally; the Halberstadt performance is scheduled to end in the year 2640.

As Dr. Michael Betzle, the project's organizer, explains, "We stretch out a piece that might take 20 minutes, to last 639 years. And so, when I extend a piece in this way, then one sound will stretch out to two or three years."

In a 1982 interview with NPR, John Cage revealed that he wanted to make his "music so that it doesn't force the performers of it into a particular groove, but which gives them some space in which they can breathe and do their own work with a degree of originality. I like to make suggestions, and then see what happens, rather than setting down laws and forcing people to follow them." In other words, Cage's work is completely open to interpretation.

Several years after Cage's death in 1992, Betzle and a group of musicologists and philosophers from around the world discussed the possibility of a performance of ASLSP that would truly be in the spirit of John Cage. Exactly how slow is "as slow as possible"? The group decided that the duration of the work would be the lifetime of an organ, 639 years, "for as long as the organ can sound, and make sounds, or even stand upright," according to Hans-Ola Ericsson, professor of organ at the University of Lulea, Sweden. Ericsson was one of three organists who pressed a key on the first chord of Organ²/ASLSP.

(Above-linked article contains listening samples.)

Here’s another article that explains more. (Why 639 years? Performance of Organ²/ASLSP commenced September 5, 2001, 639 years after the organ was first used liturgically.)

HT: De at Thinklings


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