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John Cage: ORGAN² / ASLSP
John Cage On February 5, 2003, the first three notes of John Cage's Organ²/ASLSP were played on the organ of St. Burchardi Church in Halberstadt, Germany. However, the performance actually began at the stroke of midnight, September 5, 2001, what would have been Cage's 89th birthday. And it began with 1 1/2 years of silence.

audio iconListen to the ATC feature
NPR's Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr reports for All Things Considered on the St. Burchardi Church performance.

audio iconListen to the PT feature
Written and produced by Summer 2003 PT interns Leslie Leung and Dylan Schneider.

photo gallery icon Photo Gallery: Organ²/ASLSP

Cage Organ, St. Burchardi Church
The Cage Organ at St. Burchardi Church, Halberstadt, Germany
Credit: John Cage Foundation
John Cage: ASLSP

audio icon 'ASLSP' - Anthony de Mare, piano - (excerpt)

audio icon 'Organ²/ASLSP' - first three notes, February 5, 2003, Halberstadt

As Slow As Possible

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.

The first modern organ, the Blokwerk organ, was built for the Halberstadt Cathedral in 1361, 639 years before the turn of the millennium. A brand new organ was built specifically for the Halberstadt performance of Organ²/ASLSP. The Cage Organ is based on the simple structure of the original Blokwerk organ, to lessen the chance of possible failures. Since no one person can perform this rendition of ASLSP, for obvious reasons, lead weights fill in for the fingers of the organist, while each note change will be played manually on the fifth day of the month, in remembrance of John Cage's birthday.

The next two notes, joining the sound of the first three, will be played on July 5, 2005.

In Depth