Monday, November 9, 2009

A short post about a long piece - John Cage ASLSP

First, my apologies for a few days without posting. I think perhaps these blogs may become a little more erratic in the foreseeable future, with some significant, albeit very happy, changes in my life leading to some equally significant but happy changes in my daily routines.

But my love for music is still as boundless as ever, and so I still hope to attend to this blog whenever I can.

Today I wanted to talk about one of the greatest music experimenters of all time, and one who an amazing range of modern musicians count amongst their influences - American avant-garde composer John Cage.

Born in 1912 and dying in 1992, John Cage is perhas most famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for his work 4'33", a piece for piano, which is totally silent throughout. Four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. Except, of course, that it's never really silent because there is always noise somewhere - amongst the audience, creaks within the hall, noise of traffic outside.

He has written a great deal, especially for prepared piano, and the effects he creates through distorting sound in hundreds of different ways, such as attaching bolts and paper clips to the piano strings, is always fascinating. You can pick up a disc of his music for prepared piano pretty cheaply, and it's worth a listen, both in its own right and also to hear what impressed and influenced so many of today's modern, experiemental musicians, rom Frank Zappa to Brian Eno to Sonic Youth.

The music that I wanted to mention today is his work As Slow As Possible (ASLSP), which is currently being performed on an organ in a church in Germany, where Cage's tempo markings of "as slow as possible" are being taken literally. The performance of the 8 page score will last for 639 years. It commenced in 2001, with an eighteen month pause, followed by the the first note in 2003, and the second note in 2004. The organ's keys are held down by weights, and a semi sound-proof wall has been built around the organ so as not to create too much distrubance in the local nighbourhood where, nonetheless, the community have become more or less used to the constant organ drone coming from the local church.

Now, in 2009, we are in the midst of a chord, which will lose one of its notes in July 2010 and have a new note added to it in February 2011. I gather it is almost impossible to get tickets for each new note but you can, in any event, listen to the whole thing live, online at:

I would of course, just love to have the CD but, presuming you can get 75 minutes onto a CD, that means 4,481,180 CDs which, even with nice packaging and a souvineer booklet, is likely to be a bit much, even for me, to pay for.

The performance is due to conclude in 2639.

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