1994, 26 min, color, sound

Déserts was created to accompany a live performance of the work of avant-garde composer Edgard Varèse (1885-1965). The Ensemble Modern, a contemporary music group based in Frankfurt, commissioned Viola to create a visual score for Varèse's Déserts after discovering notes by the composer referring to an unrealized image component of his composition. The resulting film/videotape was produced with the European television stations ZDF/Arte. In October 1994 Viola's Déserts premiered in a live performance in Vienna with conductor Peter Eötvös and the Ensemble Modern.

Viola's images are a stunning collage, ranging from the desolate landscape of the Great Salt Lake to the sea floor. Varèse's composition uses taped sound collages that interrupt the live music, and Viola visually develops this structure. The editing together of visual and score is immaculate; bolts of lightning hit on the bass line, a series of field fires rise in intensity following the adagio of the music. Images of rising and falling, the two great motifs of Viola's work, are present here. In one stunning sequence a table is overturned, and bowls and jugs fall in slow motion. Spinning, they disgorge their contents in amazing fractal like patterns.

Conceived, Directed and Edited by Bill Viola. 'Man in Room': Philip Esposito. Producers: Peter Kirby, Gabriele Faust. Associate Producer: Kira Perov. Directors of Photography: Harry Dawsun, Bill Viola. Music composed by Edgar Varèse, performed by Ensemble Modern. Conductor: Peter Eötvös. Funding: ZDF, Das Kleine Fersehspiel/ARTE.


Any requests for live performances of this piece, accompanying the Varese composition, must be referred to the studio.

SCREENING REQUIREMENTS for museum or gallery presentation: The video should be presented as cinema. The screening should take place in an isolated dark room with seating for the audience (ie. not be an open "walk through" gallery.) If available, a normal museum theater is best. As with film, it should be shown according to a printed schedule and not on an automatically repeating loop. Quality presentations less frequently to larger groups are preferable to continuous screenings throughout the day. A large screen monitor may be used (26, 30, or 35 inch) for groups up to about 60 (varies with floor plan and seating arrangement). For very large groups or in a large space, a video projector with a flat screen (high gain) may be used. Audio must be monitored through a separate stereo sound system (amplifier and 2 speakers). The built-in speakers in the video monitor must not be used. Please contact EAI distribution (info@eai.org) if you have any questions.