What You Can Do With This (As Slow As Possible)

score cage

I believe the best thing here is to show one’s cards slowly and just throw up the slide above and get a discussion started.

Hopefully enough students know music to note the oddities, and eventually someone with an eagle eye will ask what all those numbers are.


They’re dates, and here’s all of them:

05.09.2001 (Sep. 5, 2001)
05.02.2003 (Feb, 5, 2001)

After some boggling, hemming, and hawing (and in this case some heavy nudges from the teacher), a decision should be made that these represent the dates the notes are played.

Let students calculate how long the piece will be, and have them marvel at a piece of music that takes 12 years to play.

Then explain this is only a short excerpt from the score which is 4 meters long and consists on average of 1917 quarter notes. Each quarter note takes 4 months to play (which is possible to extract from the above score, so students should make their own estimates first).

How long will As Slow As Possible take to play?

After a calculation of 639 years by this point the student ought to be either hooked or in disbelief. At this point it is appropriate to show the news material from my other post.

Where things go from here depends on the level of your class. Josh in this comment mentions some ideas; the two I had in mind were:

Lower level class: How many generations will it take to perform the piece?

Higher level class: What is the length of the next note they will need to install?

unfinished organ

As explained on Wikipedia:

The octave sounded by a given pipe is inversely proportional to its length (“1/2 the length = double the pitch”), meaning that a 4′ stop speaks exactly one octave higher than an 8′ stop. Likewise, a 2′ stop speaks exactly one octave higher than a 4′ stop. Conversely, a 16′ stop speaks exactly one octave below an 8′ stop; and a 32′ stop speaks exactly one octave below a 16′ stop. Octave pitch lengths used in actual organs include 64′, 32′, 16′, 8′, 4′, 2′, 1′, and 1/2′.

(Some more details on pitch levels are here.)

Study of the musical score above reveals the next note needed will be a half step over middle C, in 2011. Assuming middle C is 8′, then the C one octave (12 half steps) above is 4′. That should be enough to make the calculation.

What Can You Do With This? (As Slow As Possible)

score cage

Deutsche Welle, July 5th, 2008
One Thousand Hear Change of Note in World’s Longest Concert

The next musical change in John Cage’s slow masterpiece will happen in November. More than 1,000 music-lovers showed up on Saturday, July 5, in a German town to hear a change of note in the longest-running and slowest piece of music ever composed. Eccentric US composer John Cage (1912-1992) planned his composition to last 639 years, meaning more than a dozen generations of musicians will be needed to play it on an automatic, as-yet unfinished organ at Halberstadt, Germany.

(The above is slightly incorrect — the 639 year concert was only planned after John Cage’s death. The 639 years were to commemerate the 639 year anniversary of the first organ with a modern keyboard arrangement.)

Entitled ORGAN2/ASLSP, it began in 2001 and has so far reached its sixth note. The second part of the name means “as slow as possible.”

The first performance took 29 minutes. The longest performance by a single person has been 14 hours and 56 minutes.

Since some notes will not be needed for decades, pipes need only be added when donations suffice.

Organizers in Halberstadt rejected questions about what it all means.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” one of them said. “It’s just there.”

unfinished organ

The current sound being played

John Cage’s most famous piece is likely his 4’33”, where “the score instructs the performer not to play the instrument during the entire duration of the piece throughout the three movements”.