Architecture mixed with electronics mixed with animation — we think nothing of mixing these elements now. In 1958, as Poème Electronique was unleashed on the Brussels World’s Fair, it was still experimental. The animation/installation/composition was the collaborative creation of legendary modernist architect Le Corbusier, his assistant Iannis Xenakis, who would later come to be known as a ground-breaking experimental composer, and composer Edgard Varèse. Varèse is certainly one of us: part of the reason he went into a compositional drought for many years was he was frustrated by the limitations of acoustic sound, and longed for the electronic labs we have today.

The results are, well, totally bizarre, even now. (Or, perhaps, especially now.) There’s a certain freshness, though, to the oddness of the work. I wonder what the ultimate Poème of the 21st Century could look like. I don’t think I’ve seen it yet.

Via Rhizome, via Screenhead — thanks to Marisa Olson, as I’ve been hoping this would crop up online for a long time!

More info on the work, with links, at the Electronic Music Foundation.

Updated: The old YouTube link wasn’t working; here’s a new one. If that doesn’t work, try a YouTube search for Poeme Electronique.

  • Excellent, thanks; I've been wanting to see this for a while.

    Does anybody know if there was an animation/film that went along with the Xenakis interlude?

  • Wasn't that portion just with colored lights?

    You know, I'm really surprised that no one has tried restoring the work, even just to do an installation of the animation and sound score in part. (I don't think all the tracks of the multitrack installation survived.) I've seen a couple of dissertations on the piece, but I don't know of anyone trying to mount it from the surviving pieces and descriptions. (Has anyone?)

  • 🙂 awesome, huh?

  • Richard Dobson

    I was part of a team that in 2005 created a full interactive virtual reality recreation of the Poeme (a Culture2000 project) , based on all extant materials (the three-channel source tapes), and knowledge of the spatialization. hardware (350 speakers). Gbytes of binaural spatialization data was employed, controlled by a user wearling a VR display helmet with head tracking. Two computers were employed.

    My modest contribution was to "compose" the spatialization, based on the scant information that has survived, such as a 30sec extract from the original control score, all that remains of the original. The control tapes exist, but are unplayable.

    The project is described (with demo videos) here:

    You will need the Shockwave plugin to viwew some of the materials, not least the interactive demo (i.e. you can move around in the space while the piece is rendering) of the whole thing.

    Rumous abound of a project to build a full-size replica of the pavilion (i.e. bricks and mortar!); but I know no more about it than that.

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  • martin

    the video is no longer available. what happened?

  • Just after the Architecture, Music Acoustics Conference in Toronto last year, a working party met in Brussels to discuss, cost and generally scope out the feasibility of reconstructing the Poeme. You could contact Sven Sterken for more information;

  • Janet Ridout

    I wonder if it occured to anyone to contact Ilhan Mimaroglu about this projects (the Turkish composer whose early electronic works are on several of the Colombia series of the '60s), because, I believe, Varese left some of his materials he used towards the construction of this piece as well as some of the original tapes to him -they were good friends in NY –had many intellectual interests (with Mimaroglu's deep French-based cultural background, etc…)

  • Janet Ridout

    I was very much looking forward to it –but the video is not available any longer… -???

  • I've added an updated link to the video.

    More updates on Poeme and other assorted discussions relevant to this coming soon, so stay tuned. 🙂

  • hasti

    very nice