05/20/2006 01:35 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Musical Performance Slated to Last 639 Years?

It's a piece by John Cage called "As Slow as Possible." Some folks in Halberstadt, Germany have dedicated a church organ to this performance and, through various calculations described here, they settled on 639 years as the duration. That's continuous performance
for 639 years. The piece has been performed in other venues for periods in the neighborhood of 17 minutes and 39 minutes, so you can imagine the proportionalities involved. The composition starts with a tiny break. In Halberstadt, that meant that the piece started with 17 months of silence. Then came the first note.

When I first read about this in the Times last week, I found it annoying. Grandstanding. A stunt. Don't people have better things to do? But it kept nagging at me, I couldn't stop thinking about it. The sheer expanse of time involved, the blind faith in the future--the expectation that 400 years from now the world will be the kind of place where someone will be keeping this performance going. I imagined things like, say, maybe a guy of 25 arranged to be in the church when the 17 month introductory break ended and the first note sounded, and then maybe stayed in Halberstadt for week listening to the first note, and then he will go back at the age of 65 to hear the second note begin, and he will ask his children to be there for the third note's onset 50 years later. And so on...

Just wanted to share.