Good Seats Still Available
for 639-Year Avant-Garde Concert

by Matt Surman
July 6, 2004

BERLIN - In the abandoned Burchardi church in the German town of Halberstadt, the world's longest concert moved two notes closer to its end Monday: Three years down, 636 to go.

The addition of an E and E-sharp complement the G-sharp, B and G-sharp that have been playing since February 2003 in composer John Cage's ''Organ2/ASLSP'' -- or ''Organ squared/As slow as possible.''

The five notes are the initial sounds played on a specially built organ -- one in which keys are held down by weights, and new organ pipes will be added as needed as the piece is stretched out to last generations.

The concert is more than just an avant-garde riff on Cage's already avant-garde oeuvre. ''It has a philosophical background: in the hectic times in which we live, to find calm through this slowness,'' said Georg Bandarau, a businessman who helps run the private foundation behind the concert. ''In 639 years, maybe they will only have peace.''

The concert began Sept. 5, 2001 -- the day Cage would have turned 89. The composition, originally written to last 20 minutes, starts with a silence, and the only sound for a first 1-1/2 years was air. The first notes were played in February 2003. The two new notes rang out Monday.

After debates in Germany about what ''as slow as possible'' could mean -- anywhere from a day to stretching on infinitely -- the group of German music experts and organ builder behind the project chose the concert's 639-year running time to commemorate the creation of the city's historic Blockwerk organ in 1361.

About 10,000 tourists visited the city last year to hear the first three notes, Bandarau said.


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