Wait for the drop: An organ playing a 639-year-long piece of music has changed chord

It’s the first time it’s done so in exactly two years.

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John Cage Organ Foundation

Credit: Matthias Bein/picture alliance via Getty Image

An organ playing the longest and slowest piece of music in the world has changed chord for the first time in two years.

Legendary avant-garde musician John Cage composed the piece, titled As Slow as Possible, and it plays on a specially-built organ at the Burchardi Church in the town of Halberstadt in Germany in 2001. It won’t finish playing until 2640, 616 years away – to give an idea of how far away that is, 1408 was 616 years ago and Henry IV ruled England.

Since 2001, the piece has had just 16 chord changes. It began with 18 months of silence, and the first notes were only made in 2003. Before yesterday (5 February) the last time the chord changed was exactly two years before, on 5 February 2022. It’s been reported that people booked tickets years in advance to hear the chord change in person. To make the change, volunteers inserted another pipe into the mechanical organ.

The organ was designed using an electronic wind machine to push air into the pipes, with sand bags pressing down the keys to create a drone-like sound.

According to the website of the project, the next chord change is expected to be on 5 August 2026.

The piece’s score comprises eight pages of music, and it’s designed to be played on either the piano or the organ. While it’s meant to be played as slowly as possible, Cage never specified an exact tempo. While this current performance will still be going on centuries after anyone involved is around, the piece lasted just under half an hour when it premiered in 1987.

However, performances that followed would last longer – one 2009 performance from organist Diane Luchese lasted 14 hours and 56 minutes. Long, certainly, but still not quite the six centuries it’s taking to play it at the moment. It was born from a meeting of musicians and philosophers after Cage’s death in 1992.


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