Analysis of ‘Desert Interpolation 1’ – Edgard Varese

Analysis of ‘Desert Interpolation 1′ – Edgard Varese Deserts is a soundtrack piece to a modernist film, composed by Edgard Varese, also known as “the father of electronic music”, during 1950 to 1954. Varese began composing this piece upon the gift of an Ampex tape recorder and it soon became the first work to use recorded sounds. It is a landmark creation that had a great influence on the post World War II composers.

However, its premiere, on 2 December 1954 at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris, was not well received by the public.

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This performance was part of an Office de Radiodiffusion Television Francaise (ORTF) broadcast concert, where the audience were mainly conservative listeners, awaiting a performance on pieces by Mozart and Tchaikovsky and did not expect Deserts to be wedged in between the classical pieces. It received a caustic reaction from both the audience and the press and this nearly caused the withdrawal of funding for Pierre Schaeffer’s studio of musique concrete. Moreover, Varese was never asked to work in France again. The title of the piece already notes the intentions and ideas Varese wanted to put across.

He was expressing that man can travel to anywhere in the world physically and also emotionally, to reach the point of solitude.

“not only physical deserts of sand, sea, mountains, and snow, outer space, deserted city streets… but also distant inner space…

where man is alone in a world of mystery and essential solitude. ” [1] All those that people traverse or may traverse: physical deserts, on the earth, in the sea, in the sky, of sand, of snow, of interstellar spaces or of great cities, but also those of the human spirit, of that distant inner space no telescope can reach, where one is alone. Varese [2] Deserts is a 3 minutes 21 seconds long piece, arranged for 14 brass and woodwinds, 5 percussion, 1 piano and electronic tape. The instruments were categorised according to timbre and pitch range. The winds each form variations of intensity and the percussion were grouped in categories of shaken, metal, membrane, wood, and variable pitch or intensity. Percussion instruments were arranged for their resonant purposes, rather than as an accompaniment.

They serve a supportive role and are independent of the winds. Four orchestral portions alternate with three interpolations of taped, electronically manipulated sounds. 1 The piece seems to be busier in the front section, starting from 0:30 to around 1:50. There are random short pauses of silence in the piece, which I believe, is to indicate the different sections. This piece comprises a huge swarm of timbres. I can identify the brass and woodwinds, and certain percussion like the cymbals, drums and wooden blocks.

There are other sounds that I cannot identify its instrument, but some of them sound like the firing of canons and gun powder, machines in a factory, and trains running on its tracks. These individual sounds are placed one after another, some overlaying each other, but there is a sense of movement and definitely expression. Some of the sound objects were clearly reversed. The gun sound was attained by probably reversing a recording of a drum being hit. A substantial amount of reverb was inserted at the post-production end.


According to the graph from Sonic Visualiser, Deserts is a piece with vast dynamic range. There are moments that peaks reduce immediately in amplitude to near silence. It does not seem to have been compressed.

Bibliography 1. Sitsky, Larry (2002).

Music of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde: a Biocritical Sourcebook, p. 533. ISBN 978-0-313-29689-5. 2. Charbonnier, Georges (1970). Entretiens avec Edgard Varese, p.

156. Paris. Cited in Griffiths (1995), p. 12 3. “Download Sonic Visualiser. ” Brothersoft.

http://mac. brothersoft. com/sonic-visualiser-download. html