Reviews of Poème Électronique orchestrated version

About the January 21, 2009 performance in Denver:

"Alarm Will Sound has built much of its reputation on its recording of acoustic arrangements of the electronic music of Aphex Twin. It started the second half with something similar, an astounding acoustic take on "Poème electronique" (1958) by pioneering composer Edgar Varèse. The ensemble produced sounds of ringing, whirring, shrieking, tapping, sliding, whistling, pulsing, blasting and all manner of other effects, using only standard instruments, a barrage of percussion and some vocalizations when necessary."

-Kyle MacMillan, The Denver Post, January 22, 2009

"Varese's contribution proved the most forward-looking and impenetrable of the night. His 50-year-old Poeme electronique was turned into a Poeme acoustique. This jarring electronic work was conceived for a huge space at the Brussels World's Fair, yet translated well into this setting (by Evan Hause) for acoustic instruments. With its bursts of noise and oddball percussive touches, the piece still sounds ahead of its time."

-Marc Shulgold, Rocky Mountain News, January 21, 2009


A revue of blogs and reviews of the performance at Miller Theater on January 20, 2007

"Poème" was also played in the second half of the concert as a live approximation of the original. Yes, Alarm Will Sound commissioned a composer to create a score for "instruments" so the piece could be played live. The idea sounded dumb, "perform" a work that was meant to exist only on tape? But the completely engaging performance was the high point of the concert. To create the sounds, the ensemble used their traditional instruments, but augmented with things like crumpled plastic bags. A singer put her head into the space between under the lid of a grand piano and made odd vocal noises that were weirdly amplified by the echo and resonance of the piano's soundboard. Chains were shaken, wooden boards slapped together and hums were intoned by the players.

-Stephen Hinton

Included were two versions of the 1958 tape piece, Poème électronique -- first, the original recording, and then, in the second half, a new arrangement of the work for acoustic instruments by Evan Hause. This live re-enactment of a purely electronic piece is very much in the spirit of Alarm Will Sound's Acoustica. The original opens with ominous cathedral bells before almost immediately giving way to vintage electro clicks, buzzes, zaps and sweeps. The audience actually laughed in a few spots -- and yeah, some of it seems awfully campy now, like the "special effects" in a B-movie from the same period -- but it's also a charming and spacious piece. The rate of change is very quick, but there's usually not more than a couple of sonic events happening at any one time. The original work was a technological tour-de-force, and Hause's adaptation for Alarm Will Sound is extremely impressive -- if I had been asked to do this, I honestly wouldn't know where the hell to begin. The work definitely loses something without all the old-school bloop-bleeps, but I really enjoyed the theatricality of the acoustic version, which calls for almost every member of AWS to move around the stage, juggling their regular instrumental duties with an array of kitchen-sink auxiliary percussion effects.

-Darcy James Argue (from Darcy James Argue's Secret Society blog) 

One of the fun things at an AWS concert is the moment where they do something they really oughtn't be able to. In my experience there tends to be at least one piece that seems like a little bit of the impossible laid before you. This time it had to do with Poeme Electronique. Now, if I understood the program notes correctly, Poeme Electronique springs from Varese's idea that the most wonderful thing in the world would be if we could have music without performers. This is of course wrong-headed, impossible, uninteresting, and stupid. In that order. The only stupider idea I can think of is: hey wouldn't it be neat if we had music without listeners?

In this admittedly pouty mindset, I suffered through the tape of Poeme Electronique before the intermission. And then, after the intermission, they played the thing live. And then we all rose as a unit and carried conductor Alan Pierson through the streets on our shoulders in celebration of the gall of trying it and the unblinking derring-do of pulling it off. Well, we should have.

-Maury D'annato