Edgar Varese: Ionisation

Bob Burnett: A nice stumble-upon occurred this morning that took me back several decades to an inspiring time of discovery. I'm referring to a twitter link I received (thanks Ambienteer)to a video produced by Flat-E inspired by Edgar Varese's 1929-31 composition Ionisation. The video was originally made to accompany a London Sinfonetta performance of Ionisation but as you'll find out developed a life of its own. This version accentuates the angular, jagged compositional approach of Varese and with the addition of contemporary electronics, enhances the composition in new ways. It makes perfect sense that Varese's work has the organic ability to be built upon with contemporary instrumentation and technology.

I fell into Varese as many did via Frank Zappa back in the '70s. One Zappa album in particular, Lumpy Gravy, stood out for me--the crashing chords, retrograde staccato sounds, percussion, odd time signatures all did my teen ears well. Research led me to discover Lumpy Gravy was for the most part a nod to Varese so off I went in search of Varese albums. I found a wealth of wonder--the apex being his masterwork (in my opinion) Poeme Electronique, a composition commissioned to play in the Le Corbusier-designed Phillips Pavilion during the 1958 World's Fair through 400 speakers. In addition to the music, I was made aware of the Henry Miller book The Air Conditioned Nightmare and one chapter in particular "With Edgar Varese in the Gobi Desert" (I linked long excerpts from the book--go to page 163 for the specific chapter mentioned) which touched on music, philosophy, religion, the state of sound, the need for madmen composers and Varese's composition Deserts.

I am feeling a need to go back to the bookshelf and pull down my dog-eared copy of The Air Conditioned Nightmare, revisit some of those underlined words, the asterisks in the margins, the notes on names to explore further: Dane Rudyhar, Alfred Steiglitz, John Marin, Krishnamurti to name a few. In the meantime--I think I'll rewatch Ionisation.

Ionisation from Flat-e on Vimeo.

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