The World’s Longest and Slowest Piece of Music

Time moves neither quickly nor slowly. Human perception causes us to think it moves.

Sixteen years ago I began writing A Bespoke Body” and shelved it. Earlier this month I pulled it from the shelf.

The earliest draft I found was dated 2006. For sixteen years I’ve been working on A Bespoke Body.”

Sixteen years seems long enough, right? I can’t say I’ve been feeling impatient about the piece. But I have wondered about where all the time has gone.

Wondering about where all the time has gone can sometimes put me in a sour mood. I end up feeling like life is still rushing by too quickly. I fret about how little I’ve accomplished in the time I have been on earth.

But then I remind myself about the world’s slowest and longest musical composition.

This story starts with the world’s first large organ with a modern-style keyboard, built in 1361 and which sits in the Saint Burchardi Church in Halberstadt, Germany.

In 2000, it was decided that ORGAN2/ASLSP - As SLow aS Possible - written by the avant-garde American composer John Cage in 1985, should be played on a specially built organ housed with Saint Burchardi Church.

This was an effort to honor the original organ and its connection to modern day keyboards.

The score is made up of eight pages of music, to be played slowly. Very, very, slowly.

How slow?

Well, it began in the year 2001 with a seventeen-month long pause before the first tone of the organ.

The last note change took place in 2013.

On September 6, 2020, fans flocked to the German church to hear its first chord change in seven years.

The last tone change recently happened on February 5, 2022.

So how long will it take to play the entire piece?

Long enough to put my 16 years into perspective.

Cage designed the piece to take exactly 639 years to play. The piece of music is a way of trying to slow down our hectic lives.” 

Cage intended the piece not only to question our perceptions of music but also our perception time and how it passes.

The piece will end in the year 2640. Is the piece too long? Too short? Why do we believe we must be present to hear a composition’s end for it to good” or important”?

Time is relative to our expectation. 

Sixteen years may be too long for me. But it’s very short within ORGAN2/ASLSP - As Slow aS Possible.

Creativity takes the time that it needs to find itself.

Earlier drafts reflect a hard truth. I was neither emotionally or morally prepared to tell this story. 

The earlier versions are angrier, filled with propaganda, and too coy.

Storytelling, even concise storytelling, requires time.

Time on the page, time in the seat and time to allow the kernel of truth to emerge.

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