I don’t know about you, but I have been finding it more and more difficult lately to enjoy a good, old-fashioned, boring hour. I gave up watching television a few years back, so that may account for some of my boredom deficit, but even when I plunk myself down in front of the computer screen with every good intention of whiling away the time with some mindless net-surfing, I get drawn into some pretty fascinating stuff. Just the other day I heard a complete version of our famous Toccata and Fugue played on glass harmonica and an abridged version performed by two athletic women dancing on a giant floor keyboard. That was before I got caught up in the “Vienna Vegetable Orchestra.”
I was led in a recent net-ramble to explore the world’s “sea organs.” The “Wave Organ” in San Francisco, described as a “wave-activated acoustic sculpture,” produces sounds which seem to consist mostly of watery gurgles and rumbles along with more typical wave sounds. The sea organ in Zadar, Croatia is a more sophisticated creation. Concealed beneath a set of large, inviting, white marble steps are 35 tuned polyethylene tubes and a large resonating cavity. The movement of the sea pushes air through the tubes, and depending on the size and velocity of the waves, different chords are played. The resulting music is mellow and meditative, reminiscent of the tintinnabular style of Arvo Pärt. The “High Tide Organ”
in Blackpool, England is organized along the same lines; the sound is produced by air forced into pipes by the waves at high tide. Edgier in both sound and appearance, constructed of concrete, steel, zinc and copper, this 49 ft.-tall “musical manifestation of the sea” looks like a giant tentacle reaching up out of the ocean. The 18 organ pipes are pitched in the harmonic series of B-flat.
Surely one of the oddest of organ oddities is the ongoing perfor- mance in Halberstadt, Germany of ASLSP (As SLow aS Possible) by (who else?) John Cage. This rendition of the 8-page score is not scheduled to be completed until the year 2640. Given that the instructions in the score are for the piece to be played “as slowly as possible,” the more standard 14+ hour performances of this gem were deemed inadequate by a 1997 conference of musicians and philosophers(!).
A project emerged to perform the work at a more leisurely, 639-year pace. An organ was specially con- structed for the purpose, complete with a cube of acrylic glass around it to reduce the volume, and the performance began in Septem- ber of 2001 with a pause which lasted until February 5, 2003, when the first chord was played. There have been several chord changes since; I was chagrined to find out that I missed the most recent one in 2013. I will have to wait until September 5, 2020 for the next harmonic event. You know, I think I am finally getting bored.