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    Bucky Ramone

    From The Guardian:

    We first thought of reporting on this late last week but, to be honest, there didn’t seem much point in rushing. A work by experimental hero (and arch-humourist) John Cage moved into a new phase last Thursday with the sounding of its second chord. Not much of a musical event, you’d think, but then not every piece of music is exactly 639 years long.

    Organ2/ASLSP (ASLSP denoting "as slow as possible"), played on the church organ of Halberstadt, east Germany, began less than thrillingly in September 2001 with an 18-month silence, but the intensity has been cranked up of late, with the first chord arriving in February 2003 and expanded by the addition of two extra notes in July 2004.

    The second full chord (A, C and F#, if you feel like playing along) emerged last Thursday, and is due to keep going until July 5, 2012, lead weights on the keys freeing the organist from the bother of holding them down manually. At this stately pace ASLSP is scheduled to last until well into the 22nd century, divided into nine sections of 71 years each. Anyone proposing to be around for the climax should book their accommodation for 2639. Though if you’re thinking of ordering an interval drink before the rush sets in, best get on with it: half-time is pencilled in for 2319, barely three centuries away.

    ASLSP began life, somewhat ironically, as a twenty-minute piano piece, but since Cage’s death in 1992 – it’s one of the many ghostly aspects of this event that the composer was dead long before it began – it was seized on by a group of fans from the John Cage foundation.

    Taking the composer at his word, they decided that "as slow as possible" should equal six centuries, and found a derelict church in the former east Germany where an organ had first been installed in 1361, exactly 639 years previously. A new, stripped-down instrument was specially constructed for the occasion, and it’s hoped that more pipes can be squeezed in by the time new chords are due to be played. Not that there’s much hurry, mind.

    In that sense it’s not quite as Cage intended, but as the composer of the far more famous piano piece 4’33" (a precisely scored performance of silence in which the pianist opens, then closes, the piano lid; listen to it here) it’s a fair bet that he would approve of such shenanigans. And, just as live performances of 4’33" are fascinating to attend – it’s astonishing the variety of noises that can be made by a crowd of people trying to be quiet – ASLSP strikes me as a bold and rather mind-enlivening experiment, one that effortlessly outlives its shock value.

    Yet almost the most engaging aspect to the story is the effect on Halberstadt itself, which has seen a boom in visitors, one that began long before any sound actually emerged from the town’s celebrity squeezebox. Quoted in Friday’s Times, Georg Bandarau from the John Cage society claimed that 10,000 people turn up each year to take a peek at what’s going on, a welcome novelty in what is still a fairly impoverished part of the country. Redevelopment via the arts? Maybe Liverpool should get thinking long-term.


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