From Bach to Beirut and Barry White, most musical scores have rests: those moments of short pause, typically lasting for a half and whole beat. But occasionally, a band will throw in a whole measure of silence, adding an extra bit of drama (or sometimes, awkwardness). Think rock band Cake’s “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.”
American composer, artist, minimalist and out-there-extraordinaire John Cage trumps all with his 1985 composition “Organ2/ASLSP.” It’s a piece thats current incarnation began with a 17-month-long pause. Cage asked that the piece be played as slowly as possible, hence the title’s acronym. Various performances have spanned from 29 minutes to more than an hour, but this variation is several months into its eleventh year. Only 629 more years to go.
This Saturday, the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center will host Variations on the Long Note, a musical accompaniment to this most recent, and ongoing rendition of “Organ/ASLSP”. Vincent Wrenn, the show’s organizer, plans to stream the continuous drone that is emanating from a small church in Halberstadt, Germany.
Wrenn is joined by XAMBUCA’s Jason Scott Furr and Chandra Shukla, Tom Pazderka, Shane Perlowin and drone-minimalist Ross Gentry. Each will take a turn interacting, improvising and responding to the live broadcast of Cage’s piece on instruments ranging from guitars and processors to oscillators, computers and keyboards.
This particular performance of “Organ2/ASLSP” began on September 5, 2001, Cage’s would-be 89th birthday. It began with the 17-month-long rest, which ended with the entrance of the composition’s first audible tones on February 5, 2003. Each tonal change or addition occurs on predetermined months, always occurring on the fifth day. The next changes are set for July 2012, October 2012 and then September 2020.
So why 639 years of continuous drone?
In 1361, the St. Burchardi Cathedral was furnished with a blockwerk organ, marking the liturgical entrance of the now-standard church instrument. That’s 639 years before the year 2000. The piece began in 2001, so it’s slated to end in 2640, making it the longest concert ever.
It’s the opposite of pop. The antithesis of the two-minute punk song. The slowest of slow songs — maybe not the dancing type, though.
Variations On The Long Note will be held Saturday, Dec. 3rd at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, located at 56 Broadway. Doors at 7:30 p.m., show starts at 8. $7 for the public, $5 for BMCM&AC members and Students.
Kyle Sherard writes about the visual arts for Mountain Xpress and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.