Saturday, January 07, 2006

John Cage's 639 Year Concert and the Universe Plays Major Music Millions Octaves Lower


By Elaine Meinel Supkis

John Cage wrote a piece that could be played "forever" but obviously, can't. But some Germans are playing this piece on the world's oldest organ, 639 years into the future. But the universe plays music at millions of octaves lower than our hearing!

From the BBC:
The world’s longest performance of a piece of music is being played in Germany, and it will go on playing for another 639 years.

John Cage's composition ASLSP, or to give it its full title As Slow As Possible, is part of what organisers have described as ‘a revolution in slowness.’ Organ2/ASLSP is due to be performed on the town organ in Halberstadt in northern Germany over a decidedly leisurely 639 years.

Apparently some 360 spectators, paid DM30 (UK£10) to see the recital's organist inflate his instrument's bellows and they'll have to come back in another 18 months time in order to hear him play the first chord - and one each year or so thereafter.
I toured a number of German churches, asking to listen or being allowed to play the organ, an instrument my mother mastered and taught to me when I was a child. I adore organ music in a stone church. The sounds echo and resonate in ways they can't in a concert hall or buildings made of less cave-like materials. In Mainz, it was winter, a light snow was falling and the organist came in to practice early in the morning. I climbed about the ancient Romanesque redstone cathederal while cascades of melodious sounds echoed and rippled throughout. A marvelous time.

Halberstadt is an interesting place.
We took off at 0745 o'clock with a load of 2300 gallons of gasoline, 6000 pounds of bombs, full load of ammunition, and the usual weight of men and equipment. Everything on plane was in perfect working order.

Joined the group formation at 1010 o'clock and flew into target without incident but was forced to use 2400 R.P.M. and 40" at times.

Dropped our bombs at 1152 o'clock, everything still in good shape. At 1200 o'clock we were hit by fighters which stayed with us for one hour and fifty minutes. They attacked us from 5-7 o'clock position at first and gradually, as more enemy fighters joined, they attacked us from 3-9 o'clock positions.
It was bombed a lot during WWII. But the Churches built by so long ago endured all this, the strong stone foundations and walls were built to survive raids and wars, for this church was finished right after the fearful millennium 1000 AD. Happy to see the world didn't end, the barbarian people of Europe went on a cathedral building binge that lasted 500 years.

In 1361 the famous Blockwerk organ was constructed. This organ stood in the cathedral of Halberstadt and was the first one with a claviature of 12 notes. Even this very day the scheme of this claviature is used on our keyboard instruments. So one can say that the cradle of modern music was in Halberstadt. In the year 2000, 639 years have passed after the „fatal day of Halberstadt” (Harry Partch) the play of Cage „as slow as possible” will be performed for 639 years. The place will be St. Burchardi one of the oldest churches of the city. Built around 1050 by Burchard of Nahburg, this church functioned as Cistercian convent for more than 600 years. In the 30 years lasting war, St. Burchardi was partially destroyed but rebuild in 1711 and secularized by Jérome in 1810. For 190 years the church was used as a barn, a hovel, a distillery and a sty.
Note there are few windows on the lower levels. Many buildings from this time, just at the end of the Dark Ages, went without windows because they were defense points during wars and sieges. The continuously playing chords will resound in this abandoned church for the foreseeable future. It is entirely mechanical with clever counterweights running the bellows.

The Universe is resounding with massive chords of unbelievable heft.
The black hole resides in the Perseus cluster of galaxies located 250 million light years from Earth. In 2002, astronomers obtained a deep Chandra observation that shows ripples in the gas filling the cluster. These ripples are evidence for sound waves that have traveled hundreds of thousands of light years away from the cluster's central black hole.

In musical terms, the pitch of the sound generated by the black hole translates into the note of B flat. But, a human would have no chance of hearing this cosmic performance because the note is 57 octaves lower than middle-C. For comparison, a typical piano contains only about seven octaves. At a frequency over a million billion times deeper than the limits of human hearing, this is the deepest note ever detected from an object in the Universe.
The ripples from central black hole of the mega-galaxy that all the neighboring galaxies are falling into, as they merge, the resounding clash reverberates throughout the dust, gasses and debrie that litters the cosmos.

In the news this week, also, is the astonishing information that our very own Milky Way is also making celestial music. In this case, a few million octaves low C major. A merrier, lighter melody!

Here is a map showing the C major wave effect below the Galactic Center. Elephants, we now know, can make rumbling or bellowing sounds with wave lengths our ears can't catch by the gigantic ears of the elephant can hear it perfectly well much further away, but even an elephant can't pick up sounds at millions of octaves lower!
The warp, seen most clearly in the thin disk of hydrogen gas permeating the galaxy, extends across the entire 200,000-light year diameter of the Milky Way, with the sun and earth sitting somewhere near the crease. Leo Blitz, professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues, Evan Levine and Carl Heiles, have charted this warp and analyzed it in detail for the first time, based on a new galactic map of hydrogen gas (HI) emissions.

They found that the atomic gas layer is vibrating like a drum, and that the vibration consists almost entirely of three notes, or modes.
Like the bellows of the mightiest Wurlitzer, like an eternal Kettle Drum, the gods play with music on an inimaginable scale. Our galaxy isn't some stationary object. It travels through space and time. It warps both as it moves, it moves internally, rotating on the axis of an innermost black hole and we glide along towards Andromeda, and all are sliding towards the Great Attractor who plays even greater instruments than our little galaxy. And as we rip apart a smaller, stray galaxy, it makes our skirts ripple and wave in a Dionysian display of energy and destruction.

Play it again, Milk.
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