Organ piece lasting 639 YEARS sees first chord change in seven years

Organ musical piece intended to last 639 YEARS sees its first chord change in seven years in front of hundreds of spectators at German church

  • Organ²/ASLSP (As Slow As Possible) began in 2001 at the St Burchardi Church 
  • The music piece by American composer John Cage is played on a special organ
  • Soprano singer Johanna Vargas and organist Julian Lembke changed the chord 

An organ musical piece intended to last 639 years saw its first chord change in seven years in front of hundreds of spectators at a church in Germany.

The performance of the Organ²/ASLSP (As Slow As Possible) composition began in September 2001 at the St Burchardi Church in Halberstadt and is supposed to end in 2640, if all goes well.

The music piece by the American composer John Cage is played on a special organ inside the medieval church. 

The last sound has been the same one for the last six years and 11 months, and therefore the chord change Saturday was a big event among fans of the John Cage Organ Project.

Organist Julian Lembk changes a pipe of the organ of the John Cage organ project during a chord change at the partially ruined Burchardi Church in Halberstadt, Germany

People wearing face masks to protect against the coronavirus line up to attend the chord change

It was only on February 5, 2003, the day of the first chord change, that the first organ pipe chords could actually be heard inside the Burchardi Church, nearly two years after the piece began

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

On Saturday, two new organ pipes were added. Organisers say the performance is ‘one of the slowest realisations of an organ musical piece.’

A compressor in the basement creates energy to blow air into the organ to create a continuous sound. When a chord change happens, it’s done manually. 

Soprano singer Johanna Vargas and organist Julian Lembke changed the chord on Saturday.

The organ of the John Cage organ project is illuminated prior to the chord change

Singer Johanna Vargas changes a pipe of the organ of the John Cage organ project during the chord change

People watch a live video stream of the organ from outside the church as they queue to watch the chord change

The new sound reminded some listeners of the metallic buzz inside a big ships’s engine room.

The next chord change is planned for February 5, 2022.

When the piece officially started on September 5, 2001, it began without any sound. 

It was only on February 5, 2003, the day of the first chord change, that the first organ pipe chords could actually be heard inside the church.

The St Buchardi Church was built around 1050 and was used for more than 600 years as a Cistercian monastery

A compressor in the basement creates energy to blow air into the organ to create a continuous sound. When a chord change happens, it’s done manually 

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

The St Burchardi church has a long, checkered history. It was built around 1050 and was used for more than 600 years as a Cistercian monastery. 

It was partially destroyed during the Thirty Years’ War, later rebuilt, at some point secularised and over the centuries also served as a barn, a distillery and a pigsty, the John Cage Organ Project said on its website.

Chord changes usually draw several thousand visitors to Halberstadt, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of guests allowed into the church was limited this year.

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