February 28, 2020
There are some long songs out there. Pink Floyd had a habit of jamming on stage for over twenty minutes whilst there are many people who think Bohemian Rhapsody would be better if Queen stopped a little earlier. None of these songs can hope to compete with a song currently being played in Halberstadt, Germany however, which isn’t due to end for another 624 years. But why? What ever happened to German efficiency?
Halberstadt is credited with having the first ever pipe organ back in 1361 and although it hasn’t survived to the present day, it has been replaced by another famous organ, which has been playing continuously since September 5th 2001 and won’t stop playing until September 5th 2640, the difference in time between the first pipe organ in Halberstadt and the new millennium… That’s the plan anyway.
The reason for this is that the organ in St. Burchardi’s church is playing a piece of music by avant-garde composer John Cage, the man who famously wrote a completely silent piece of music titled 4’33”. Unlike that one, where there are no notes to be played, Organ²/ASLSP (catchy title) has a number of chords to be played and the simple tempo instruction that the song should be played ‘as slow as possible’. Many performances last twenty minutes, others last an hour. For Halberstadt in Germany, the wording represented something of a challenge – just how long should ‘as possible’ be? - and means that for the first 17 months of the song, the church was silent; the piece starts with a rest.
There have only ever been twelve chord changes so far and the current change took place back in October 2013. If you want to hear the next one you still have a few months; it isn't scheduled until 5th September 2020. You might be wondering how the notes are played and incredibly it’s not automatic. The performer (who presumably enjoys the difficulties of their job) changes the note on the organ by hand, adding or removing weights and pipes until the desired chord has been reached. Physics takes over and the sound never wavers until the next change.
If you don’t have another 620 years to listen to the entire piece then do not worry. You can listen to an entire version on YouTube that clocks in at around 4 minutes here. Unfortunately you can’t hear the song live as there’s no stream on the project’s website, but you can hear what the latest chord is by pressing play in the sidebar to the right of this page. It’s just a bit sad that absolutely nobody reading this now will hear the end of it!
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By Henry Fosdike