Poeme Electronique

Here is a brief article on our playlist example of electronic music.


Poème électronique (English Translation: “Electronic Poem”) is an 8-minute piece of electronic music by composer Edgard Varèse, written for the Philips Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. The Philips corporation commissioned Le Corbusier to design the pavilion, which was intended as a showcase of their engineering progress. Le Corbusier came up with the title Poème électronique, saying he wanted to create a “poem in a bottle.” Varèse composed the piece with the intention of creating a liberation between sounds and as a result uses noises not usually considered “musical” throughout the piece.

Sequence of Events

The images in Le Corbusier’s film are all black and white still photographs and willfully abstract. The first image is a bull’s head in a spotlight. The final image is a woman holding an infant. Le Corbusier assigned thematic sections to the film:

0 – 60″ Genesis
61 – 120″ Spirit and Matter
121 – 204″ From Darkness to Dawn
205 – 240″ Man-Made Gods
241 – 300″ How Time Moulds Civilization
301 – 360″ Harmony
361 – 480″ To All Mankind

The sequence of sounds in Varèse’s composition:

0″ 1. a. Low bell tolls. “Wood blocks.” Sirens. Fast taps lead to high, piercing sounds. 2-second pause.
43″ b. “Bongo” tones and higher grating noises. Sirens. Short “squawks.” Three-tone group stated three times.
1’11” c. Low sustained tones with grating noises. Sirens. Short “squawks.” Three-tone group. 2-second pause.
1’40” d. Short “squawks.” High “chirps.” Variety of “shots,” “honks,” “machine noises.” Sirens. Taps lead to
2’36” 2. a. Low bell tolls. Sustained electronic tones. Repeated “bongo” tones. High and sustained electronic tones. Low tone, crescendo. Rhythmic noises lead to
3’41” b. Voice, “Oh-gah.” 4-second pause. Voice continues softly.
4’17” c. Suddenly loud. Rhythmic percussive sounds joined by voice. Low “animal noises,” scraping, shuffling, hollow vocal sounds. Decrescendo into 7-second pause.
5’47” d. Sustained electronic tones, crescendo and decrecendo. Rhythmic percussive sounds. Higher sustained electronic tones, crescendo. “Airplane rumble,” “chimes,” jangling.
6’47” e. Female voice. Male chorus. Electronic noises, organ. High taps. Swooping organ sound. Three-note group stated twice. Rumble, sirens, crescendo (8 minutes and 5 seconds).”