Cage Performance to Run Longer Than Cats

Cage Performance to Run Longer Than Cats

Timeline of the score
Image courtesy of John Cage in Halberstadt

At the stroke of midnight on September 5, 2001, a performance of John Cage‘s ORGAN2/ASLSP (As Slow As Possible) began in the small German town of Halberstadt. Taking Cage at his word, it is not scheduled to conclude for another 639 years.

The performance began just last month at a former Buchardi monastery in honor of the composer’s 89th birthday on an instrument built especially for this single concert. Acclaimed organ builder Gerald Woehl based the Cage Organ on the town’s famous Blockwerk organ. The extended performance schedule is intended to commemorate the completion of the first of the original series in 1361.

A drawing of the monastery
Image courtesy of John Cage in Halberstadt

Cage’s score has been divided into equal yearly increments and a clock on the project’s website is counting down the seconds. In remembrance of John Cage’s birthday, the fifth day of the month has been designated as the date for all note changes. According to the site, an organist will manually perform each chord transition and then weights will be put in place to secure the new combination of notes until the next change is called for. On September 5, 2001 the work began with a one and a half year rest. On January 5, 2003 the first three notes will sound with two further ones added two and a half years later. The length of the notes, rests, and transitions for the first of the eight parts have already been calculated. The order in which the following parts are to be played as well as other aspects pertinent to the concert will be decided on during the course of the performance. Ultimately, of course, the success of the performance is dependant on generations of performers not even born yet.

Cage Foundation director Laura Kuhn says the project was an initiative of German music critic Heinz-Klaus Metzger, German composer/scholar Rainer Riehn, and German composer/organist Jakob Ullman, all of whom were inspired by a passage from Harry Partch‘s Genesis of a Music (wherein that “fateful day at Halberstadt” is chronicled as introducing the tyranny of the 12-part division of the octave).

ORGAN2/ASLSP was originally composed for piano in 1985 and intended to last around 20 minutes. The nature of the instrument naturally placed somewhat of a limit on the amount of time each note could be held. Two years later, however, Cage rearranged it for organ and opened up an infinite number of ways the performer might interpret “as slow as possible.” A topic of continued debate, suggestions have ranged from a full-evening performance to one stretching on into infinity.

Philosophically, the project in Halberstadt is intended to call into question modern conceptions of time and “stand in marked contrast to the breathless pace of modern life.” For those with a shorter attention span, the organizers have scheduled a variety of music and dance concerts performed at a more traditional pace.

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