Déserts
Edgard Varèse - 1949/54

"I had in mind not only all physical deserts (of sand, sea and snow, of outer space, of empty city streets) but also the deserts in the mind of man: not only those stripped aspects of nature that suggest barrenness, aloofness, timelessness, but also that remote inner space no telescope can reach, where man is alone, a world of mystery and essential loneliness." So Varèse accounted for the title of the first work in which he made use of the new musical material of the post-1945 period, magnetic tape. The 'essential loneliness' translates into instrumental music in which the bustling energy of Varèse's scores of the 1920s and '30s has been replaced by an almost Apollonian restraint and a tape part full of violent contrasts of sonority.

That Déserts would combine both tape and instruments was always Varèse's intention but the tape part - three 'interpolations', as Varèse termed them - was created after most of the instrumental music had been written and the relationship of instrumental to tape music is tangential rather than contrapuntal. The interpolations are all about three minutes long with the middle one the longest. The first and last interpolations use recordings of noise-rich industrial sounds as their principal source materials while the middle imerpolation, derived primarily fmm percussion instruments, is a little more subdued.

Déserts was given its first performance in Paris in December 1954, directed by Hermann Scherchen. The tape was revised in 1961 with the technical assistance of Bülent Arel in the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center and tonight's performance uses a digital copy, made in the Columbia University Electronic Music Center, of that revised version. Electric Spring is grateful to Pril Smiley of the Columbia University Electronic Music Center for making this tape and that of Poème Electronique available for tonight's performance.

Performances