1994, 28:09 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 Varèse composition, must be referred to the studio. For those who ask, this is based on the 1954 version of the Varèse piece.

SCREENING REQUIREMENTS for museum or gallery presentation:

The video should be presented as cinema. Projection in a dedicated, darkened gallery is strongly preferred. Accompanying floor plans and technical specifications regarding projection equipment is appreciated. Videos must be shown in original 4:3 aspect ratio, either using projector settings, as available, or pillarboxed with black masking.

Seating must be provided for the audience, and works must be shown according to a published schedule, not presented as an automatically repeating loop. Works cannot be incorporated into looping programs with other titles. Audio must be handled through a separate stereo sound system (amplifier and two speakers).

Please contact the EAI office (info@eai.org) for further information regarding monitor displays. Presentation on monitor may be permitted in certain instances, but the use of headphones or sound through built-in speakers is not permitted.