Saturday, May 3, 2014

Poeme Electronique (1958)

I'm passively enjoying the many wonderful blog posts, papers and twitter feeds that are attached to this blog.  I won't comment except to say that the popular media really does us a disservice.  There is, after all, intelligent (as well as kind, sincerely concerned, funny, witty, ironic . . .) life in the universe.

I'm taking a bit of a break from the blog, collecting my thoughts.  In the meantime, a friend of mine here in San Francisco sometimes plays with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players.  I tagged along last weekend to hear her play in a live performance of Edgard Varese's Poème Electronique.                     

Edgard Varèse's 1958 Poème Electronique is a landmark in the history of high fidelity audio and also in contemporary music.  I notice that youtube has a short video describing its production:


From my program last weekend "Edgard Varèse composed his eight-minute Poème Electronique for the performance in the Philips Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels Worlds Fair.  The occasion was a confluence of extraordinary energies; the architect was Le Corbusier, though the complex structure underpinning the building was the brainchild of the young architect/composer Iannis Xenakis whose work "Concrete PH" was also performed in the Pavilion.  Varèse was not the first choice of the Philips committee, but Le Corbusier insisted and Poème Electronique was chosen over competing proposals by Benjamin Britten and Aaron Copland.  Poème Electronique broke new ground in the arena of electro-acoustic music.  It not only joined the cadre of a very few works by major composers for the medium, it added a spectacular element of spatial diffusion.  Some 450 speakers where embedded in the walls of the pavilion's cavernous interior, and through a system of manual switches could be activated in groups such that sound swirled through space.  Unfortunately contemporary audiences cannot experience Poème Electronique in its original form.  The pavilion was dismantled at the end of the Fair.  Much to the delight of the architects who had suffered through a barrage of criticisms that the structure would collapse under its own weight, the thin concrete sheaves that Le Corbusier and Xenakis mounted on a hyperbolic substructure proved to be nearly indestructible."

Here's a youtube version of Poème Electronique (unfortunately without the acoustic spatial diffusion of the original):
 

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