|Tuesday 11 September, 2001
Time for John Cage
The world’s longest performance of a piece of music is being played in Germany, and it will go on playing for another 639 years.
John Cage's composition ASLSP, or to give it its full title As Slow As Possible, is part of what organisers have described as ‘a revolution in slowness.’
But can this really be taken seriously or is it simply a publicity stunt? Arts In Action reports.
Throughout his life, the experimental American composer, John Cage, was celebrated for his various efforts to subvert audiences’ conventional concepts of what music is, and should be.
Famously quoted as saying, ‘if my work is accepted I must move on to the point where it isn’t’, Cage continually pushed back artistic boundaries and led audiences to the edge of reason.
Much of his theory of art was based on random events. Whether he used conventional percussion instruments or tinkered with audio frequencies, performances of Cage’s work always sparked conversation.
In 1952 he challenged every musical assumption with his most notorious piece entitled 4'33". Here players sat silently for the allotted time, allowing the ambient noise to fill the void. This quite literally was the sound of silence.
Now, nine years after his death, the memory of Cage most certainly lives on.
Last week, The John Cage Project launched what they claim will be the world's longest musical recital.
Organ2/ASLSP is due to be performed on the town organ in Halberstadt in northern Germany over a decidedly leisurely 639 years.
Apparently some 360 spectators, paid DM30 (UKú10) to see the recital's organist inflate his instrument's bellows and they'll have to come back in another 18 months time in order to hear him play the first chord - and one each year or so thereafter.
Providing that sponsors can be found, the performance is scheduled to reach its finale in 2640, with a half time interval planned in 2319.
Although Cage originally wrote ASLSP in 1992 as a 20-minute piece for piano, for many years musicologists have deliberated over just how slow, as slow as possible really is.
Whilst purists have argued that time is infinite, the John Cage Organ Foundation agreed on the figure of 639 years to correspond with the number of years since the construction of Germany’s first block single organ.
The performance has been presented as the ultimate antidote to a fast paced world. As organiser, Michael Betzle, has explained:
‘The long period of time is supposed to form a contrast to the breathless pace of change in the modern-day world.’
It is certainly very slow, but as music critic Michael White, explains this is not necessarily how John Cage intended the music to be performed:
|‘It is in the spirit of John Cage… he was an outrageous character, in a sense, he was the emperor of the avant-garde.’ |
‘His whole life was spent creating events and happenings… they were meant for you to go away and think about some principal or philosophical idea that each piece embodied and reflected.’
Life and laughs
When asked about his thoughts on death, John Cage famously replied:
‘That's a mystery the solution of which interests me very much.’
Unless his music enables the audience to cheat death, it is extremely unlikely that anyone will witness the entire live performance.
Organiser, Michael Betzle, has even said:
‘I am 57 years old. I have to accept the distinct possibility that I shall die before the concert is over.’
So what does ASLSP signify? Is there any point in staging a concert that even the organisers will never hear?
From Michael White’s point of view, there are always lessons to be learned from Cage performances. He explains:
‘I think Cage was a con-man, but he was a con man who stumbled on some brilliant truths and was able to make use of them.’
'I met him a few times and he was funny and able to laugh at himself. It wasn’t that he didn’t take what he was doing seriously, he did, but he thought that there was a joke in everything.'
'I think people who grasp some deep truths about life are able to look at life and see how funny it is.’
| When can I hear ASLSP?
|The first three-note chord of John Cage’s ASLSP is due to be played on 5th January 2003 in Halberstadt, Germany.
The next two notes can be heard on 5th July 2004.