Slow Food for the Mind

For many years our focus has been on making things faster and faster. Computer chips are doubling their speed about every 18 months (Moore’s Law). But in our faster and faster spinning world we rarely focus on really long-lasting or long-term projects. One of them is John Cage‘s piece for Organ, the other one that impressed me is the 10’000-year clock.

Organ²/ASLSP (As SLow aS Possible)

Organ in Halberstadt

Organ in Halberstadt with the three pipes currently being played (Image via Wikipedia)

is a musical piece composed by John Cage and is the subject of one of the longest-lasting musical performances yet undertaken. It was originally written in 1987 for organ.

The actual performance commenced in the St. Burchardi church on September 5, 2001 with a pause lasting until February 5, 2003. The first chord was played from then until July 5, 2005. The most recent new chord from the organ was a three-note chord, A above middle C, C above middle C and the F# above that (A4-C5-F#5), which began on January 5, 2006 and concluded on July 5, 2008. This sonority can currently be heard on a website devoted to the Halberstadt event.

Sankt-Burchardi-Church in Halberstadt, Germany

St. Burchardi church in Halberstadt (Image via Wikipedia)

The latest musical event from the organ is a new chord (C4-A flat4). On July 5, 2008, the weights holding down the organ pedals were shifted resulting in the 6th chord change. Two more organ pipes were added alongside the four installed and the tone became more complex at 15:33 local time. A machine, called a blower, provides a constant supply of air which keeps the pipes playing. The performance is planned to continue until September 5, 2640. (Quoted from Wikipedia).

A similar undertaking is the 10’000-Year Clock.

10'000-Year Clock

TIME MACHINE: The 10 000-Year Clock (prototype shown here) is a monumental timepiece designed to tell time for ten millennia. Its first components are now being machined and tested. Photo: Rolfe Horn (from the article quoted)

Quotes from the Article in IEEE Spectrum: This clock, the flagship project of Hillis’s Long Now Foundation, is a wonder of mechanical engineering. Over the course of its 10 000-year life span, it will be able to power itself enough to keep time, synchronize that timekeeping with the sun, and randomly generate unique melodies on its chimes so that visitors will never hear the same tune twice. And it will do so entirely without electricity. Think of it as “the slowest computer in the world,” says project manager Alexander Rose.

With funding from Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of, three teams of engineers in San Francisco, Seattle, and Texas have been working through the complexities of the design, including how to keep the clock ticking and how to ensure that its components will hold up through the millennia. Meanwhile, a construction crew in Texas has been blasting and digging through limestone to create the tunnel. In Washington state, engineers at Seattle Solstice are refining a giant stonecutting robot that will eventually be shipped to Texas and deployed inside the mountain, to etch the spiral staircase directly into the rock. “This is a project of a bunch of engineers,” says Rose. “And building a big physical thing is just cool.”

Still, the designers believe there’s much more to the project than just geek chic. A clock that’s meant to last for 10 000 years poses a fundamental challenge for a speed-obsessed age: How do you engineer something for the very distant future and get people to care about it today?

A question we have to ask ourselves when we create refuse that will remain deadly dangerous for the next 50’000 years.

Slow Down Take It Easy

This is the campaign for safer traffic we have had running is Switzerland for over a year now. There are some nice videos on the website. The one that ran quite often in Swiss TV is this one:

In fact pushing it in traffic rarely shortens the trip time but exponentially increases the danger. The German “Bundesamt für Straßenwesen” (Federal Road Agency) recently published a study called “Speedless.” Other sources published tests with two cars driving all the way from the very north of Germany to the very South, one pushing it to the limit, the other cruising along with traffic. The “pushy” car lost time since it had to fill up one more time and stand in line at the gas station. In the end both cars arrived within 20 minutes of each other. The driver who had to drive fast arrived totally exhausted and had used one tank more of fuel — the other driver still felt fresh.

My wife pointed out an article to me in Elle‘s November issue called “Snail Shopping” where they report on designer flagship stores turning into trendy cult places that invite you to take your time in the store. So is this a new trend? Do you see other signs of long-term sustainability or slow-down?

Maybe we really have to learn to enjoy slow things in life more. Like slow food and slow downloads . . .

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About Hellmuth Broda

Independent Information and Communications Technology Strategist with an interest in the construction sites between business, society and technology.
This entry was posted in New and Noteworthy, Unusual and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Slow Food for the Mind

  1. On Nov 21st, 2011 the Swiss TV evening news “10 vor 10” reported on the 7 km/h (< 5mph) speed limit at the Schlossplatz in Schwetzingen/Germany. This slow-down measure allows pedestrians, bicycles, cars and others to peacefully coexist on a stretch of 250 m each way. Although the time loss is totally insignificant there is strong opposition to this measure. But since it was put in place there was no accident reported any longer.

  2. Update: Physics Today published in March 2012 on the 10’000-year clock. Read the article: Time for the Future (

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