A musical performance expected to last 639 years just marked a milestone

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HALBERSTADT, GERMANY – Hundreds of fans attended a special kind of musical performance Saturday at a church in Germany: a chord change in an organ piece that is said to last 639 years. The performance of the composition “ORGAN / ASLSP”, or As Slow As Possible, began in September 2001 at St. Burchardi Church in the eastern town of Halberstadt and is expected to end in 2640 – if all goes well.

The piece of music by American composer John Cage is played on a special organ inside the medieval church. The last sound has been the same for six years and 11 months, and so the chord change on Saturday was a big event among fans of the John Cage Organ Project.

A chord change means that the sound of the organ pipes changes either because new sounds are added or because existing sounds end. On Saturday, two new organ pipes were added.

Organizers say the performance is “one of the slowest achievements of an organ musical piece.”

A compressor in the basement creates energy to blow air through the organ to create a continuous sound. When a chord change occurs, it is done manually. On Saturday, soprano singer Johanna Vargas and organist Julian Lembke changed the chord.

The new sound reminded some listeners of the metallic hum inside the engine room of a large ship.

The next change of agreement is scheduled for February 5, 2022, German news agency dpa reported.

When the play officially began on September 5, 2001, it began without any sound. It was not until February 5, 2003, the day of the first chord change, that the first organ pipe chords could be heard inside the church.

Cage was born in Los Angeles in 1912 and died in New York in 1992. He is known not only as a composer, but also as a music theorist, artist and philosopher.

St. Burchardi Church has a long and turbulent history. It was built around 1050 and was used for over 600 years as a Cistercian monastery. It was partially destroyed during the Thirty Years’ War, later rebuilt at some point secularized, and over the centuries also served as a barn, distillery and pigsty, the John Cage Organ Project has said on its website.

Agreement changes typically draw several thousand visitors to Halberstadt, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the number of guests allowed into the church has been limited this year.

Kirsten Grieshaber reported from Berlin.

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