‘As Slow As Possible’- The Song That Lasts 639 Years!


We all know the feeling of experiencing the concerts of our favorite artists and never wanting them to end. We wish they’d make music that keeps playing forever. Well, fans of the late American composer John Cage are in for a treat. He was particularly famous for leaving open spaces in his compositions to give performers freedom of interpretation. A pretty strange piece by him, called 4’33” requires musicians to do nothing except stand on the stage, and involves simply the sounds of the environment heard by the audiences during the performance. But the one composition that will get a ‘woah’ out of you has to be the Organ2/ASLSP (As Slow as Possible).

‘As Slow As Possible’- The Song That Lasts 639 Years!
Wikimedia Commons/Rob Croes / Anefo

Sure, it sounds nice. It is also going to be played for a duration of 639 years by the St. Burchardi Church in Halberstadt, Germany. Do I have your attention now?

Open to interpretation, open to experimentation!

‘As Slow As Possible’- The Song That Lasts 639 Years!
Kirche des Kloster St. Burchard Am Kloster 1, Burchardistraße in Halberstadt 094 02729

Of course, the piece itself isn’t that long. Written in 1985, a typical piano performance of As Slow as Possible lasts about 20-70 minutes. But Cage’s habit of being unpredictable and mischievous led him to omit the detail of just how slowly it should be played. Musicians instantly saw their chance and got creative with their performances. Diane Luchese performed a 14-hour 56-minute rendition of  Organ2/ASLSP at Towson University.

Another, 12-hour performance was given by Daniel Cooper in Knox Church, New Zealand. But the most extravagant anyone has ever been with this musical mystery are the Germans.

How was this crazy project born?

‘As Slow As Possible’- The Song That Lasts 639 Years!
Wikimedia Commons/Clemensfranz

It was decided in a 1997 conference of musicians that they were free to play around with Cage’s lack of instructions for the speed of the piece. A large pipe organ that would emit sound constantly was built specifically for the project of playing As Slow As Possible, well, as slow as possible. You can’t yet imagine just what it means to play it this way, every pause and every note being excruciatingly long. So let me paint you a picture.  

The “concert” began on September 5, 2001 with a 17-month long pause till February 5, 2003, after which the first chord was played till July 5, 2005. More pipes and sandbags are installed in the instrument everytime a chord changes, which is basically every couple of months. A whole list for sound change dates has been planned out till at least 2071, and the performance is scheduled to end on September 5, 2640. Talk about crazy. 

You can get a glimpse of what the resounding singular chord sounds like, echoing through the walls of the cathedral like a medieval church chime. 

The piece that became a legend for art of all kinds

‘As Slow As Possible’- The Song That Lasts 639 Years!
Wikimedia Commons/Janne Särkelä AS Long As Possible first frame playing, documented in ARS17, KIASMA , Helsinki, 2017

Organ2/ASLSP basically embodies the idea of finding creativity in simplicity. The piece can be played for as long as the life of an instrument lasts and as long as future generations continue to treasure the legacy of music and of John Cage. It has inspired all forms of art since it was made.

In fact, A visual art work, titled ‘As Long As Possible’ was created by Finnish artist Juha Van Ingen in 2017. It is a GIF animation which is supposed to last 1000 years with all its frames, and a loop function is installed to start the animation all over after the last frame has played, making it an eternal phenomenon. 

Music’s victory over the pandemic!

The Halberstadt Cage concert has garnered great attention from artists and media all over the world for its unique take on the composition and the determination to achieve something so bizarre but incredible.

This is why even coronavirus couldn’t stop the excitement of those who gathered to witness the epic note change in the pipe organ on September 5, 2020. Would you like to see it too? That’s a silly question, of course you would!

Enjoyed this article? Check out Lo-Fi – The Genre Of Music That The Millennial Artists Love


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