Lafayette Maynard Dixon, Desert Ranges

Wrong Notes: The Desert Music — a Listening Party

BISR Central
68 Jay Street, #425
Brooklyn, NY 11201

In the desert, William Carlos Williams heard the music of the future: “the birds twitter now anew.” Thirty years later, another American modernist, Steve Reich, took up Williams’s late-career collection The Desert Music and Other Poems, as text for a choral soundscape that seeks to capture—by way of drone, dissonance, and diatonic chords—the (apocalyptic?) world to which, in 1945, the New Mexican desert seemingly gave birth. 

Join us, Friday, March 15th, as BISR faculty Jude Webre and Nathan Shields take up, side by side, Williams Carlos Williams’s The Desert Music and Steve Reich’s same-named oratorio, to explore the cross-generational consciousness of our atomic world. Reading from Williams and listening, in full, to Reich, we will ask: How does Reich translate poetry into musical form? What kind of correspondence is achieved between Williams’s ominous intimations—”this the first (and last) day of the world”—and Reich’s elliptical, deconstructive musical setting? How can we situate the two works within the artistic careers of Williams and Reich—and within the stream of U.S. twentieth-century “modern” art? Are the two Desert Musics simply Cold War time-capsules; or do its themes—of desperate love and enlightenment unto death—remain salient to our contemporary cultural sensibility? Nearly 80 years after Los Alamos, do we still hear “the wrong notes?”

The event, a complement to our March course Poetry and American Modernism: Reading William Carlos Williams, is free to attend with a suggested $8 donation. Beer, wine, seltzer, and snacks will be served. Please RSVP below.

Event Schedule

Friday, 7:00pm ET
March 15, 2024


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