Performance Practice
of Electroacoustic Music

Gérard Grisey

Les Chants de l’Amour


Les Chants de l’Amour is a piece for 12-voice mixed choir and computer generated tape. Even though the first formal sketch (“l’idée de grandes polyphonies vocals enveloppées et soutenues par un fondamental puissant”) dates back to the summer of 1981, it was mainly composed between Paris and Berkeley from 1982 to 1984 and published by Editions Ricordi (© 1984, R. 2163). It was commissioned by the Ministère Français de la Culture and IRCAM and premiered on June 3, 1985 in IRCAM’s Espace de projection by the Scola Cantorum of Stuttgart conducted by Clytus Gottwald. The tape was realized at IRCAM by Jean-Baptiste Barrière and Pierre-Francois Baisnée in collaboration with Grisey using the synthesis and processing version of CHANT, a synthesis-by-rule DSP devised and created at IRCAM.

The piece explores the formant content of the vocalic part of the sentence “I love you”, formally treating this material through the entire piece and deriving a basically binary form, which follows the acoustical frame of the sentence. The pitches and the fundamental frequencies for the piece, formed by an introduction and 28 sections, are derived from the frequencies of the first two formants of these vowels contained in the sentence. Every section follows an attack, sustain, decay pattern for which specific sub-phonemes were designed. Seven different writing styles (ranging from polyphony, the syllabic style and litanies to homophony) are presented gradually by means of transitions created by interpolation processes.

The tape includes two sound sources: the synthetic voice-like material realized with the synthesis part of the CHANT program, and recorded spoken voices edited and mixed together and processed through the filtering part of CHANT.

The phonetic material is selected from the great tradition of literary love motifs, including among others (Grisey used them in their native (original) language) Tristan and Isolde, Orfeo and Euridice, Romeo and Giuletta, Don Quichotte and Dulcinea etc. In particular, litanies around the word “love”, as pronounced in several languages, are composed, and the recorded words “Je t’aime”, “amants” and “amour” are translated into 22 different languages. Some expressions reflecting moods and inner reactions are also used, together with bits of phrases with an erotic charge. Finally, the textual fragments include excerpts from Julio Cortazar’s “Rayuela” (1963). The dialogue between singers and tape, developed in different types of relationships (fusion, independence, struggle, assimilation, etc.), is intended to represent a message of hope dedicated to all lovers of the earth.


Performance material

The rent material received from Ricordi consists of one score and a DVD containing the ADAT source master. No separate parts or any dedicated electronic score are available.

An introductory explanation of the musical signs and of the phonetic signs used is provided in the score. There are five systems: four systems of three parts each for the different voice types (soprano, alto, tenor and bass), plus a single stave providing information on playing the ADAT-tape (“voix synthétique”). This last system describes precisely the rhythm of the sound events and presents a synchronization click, as well as graphical representation of single sonic events recorded.

The electronic part on the DVD (AGON, 03/2008, copy 02/2014), i.e. the pre-recorded tape played back in concert, contains four tracks with the “voix synthétique” and edited voices, plus one click-track devised to help the choral conductor, who has to be equipped with at least one earphone, synchronize the performers with the tape, [which is mostly shown on the score at points of transition between sections, in order to give the necessary synchronization for measure and tempo changes.] The four mono files are formatted in .aiff at 48 kHz/16-bit; a stereo file is also provided for rehearsing. The DVD includes a digitization protocol from AGON (2008)  [LINK “chants_readme.pdf”] with information about tracks, time stamps of the parts, photos of both sides of the original ADAT-tape with original handwritten markings.


Archival material

Paul Sacher Stiftung


  • “Version No. 2 Stereo Downmix”: 4 tracks tape, 38 cm/sec, 27 cm reel, duration 32’06’’
  • “IRCAM Schola Cantorum, Clytus Gottwald (dir)”: stereo tape, 2 tracks, 19 cm/sec, 27 cm reel, duration 36’02’’
  • “Bande seule, copie de travail)”: stereo tape, 2 tracks, 19 cm/sec, 27 cm reel, duration 32’04’’

Music manuscripts:

  • schematic sketches, textual sketches, sketches for the electronic part, proof copies.

Text manuscripts:

  • program notes of the first performance at IRCAM, synoptic chart from IRCAM, text for “Les Chants de l’Amour, a piece for computer generated mixed choir” published in ICMC ’85 Proceedings

Other Material

Ircam – Brahms Archive:

  • Technical rider with description of setup needed: i.e. mixer and DSP, loudspeakers, microphones, computer, time code reader, ear monitoring
  • Synoptic chart (issued on 27/01/1998): disposition of the players on stage, of the microphones and of the loudspeakers in the hall, as well as mixer matrix and cable connections

Authorial / Editorial instruction

IRCAM provides the following information in the synoptic chart and technical rider.



The twelve singers and their relative microphones are placed in a semicircle on stage. Four loudspeakers are positioned at the corners of the hall; a mono audio channel is routed to each of them. Two other loudspeakers face the audience from the edge of the stage (L + R), carrying reverberated amplification if needed. Two additional subwoofers are placed (always facing the audience) laterally next to the stage. Synchronization for the conductor is provided via Timecode display.

Refer to the technical charts for further details.


Performance report


Selected Bibliography

Baisnee P.F., Barriere J.B., Grisey G., ‘Les Chants de l’Amour’, A Piece for Computer Generated Tape and Mixed Choir, in Proceedings of the international Computer Music Conference 1985, San Francisco: Computer Music Association, 1985, p. 217-224.

Bossis, Bruno, Les ‘Chants de l’amour’ de Gérard Grisey, entre rigueur formelle et jubilation humaniste, in: Le temps de l’écoute, Gérard Grisey ou la beauté des ombres sonores, Danielle Cohen-Levinas (textes réunis et présentés par), Paris: L’Harmattan, 2004, p. 229‑270.

David Andras, Grisey Gérard, La Genèse d’une oeuvre, video documentary produced by Ircam, Paris, 1995.

Grisey, Gérard, Les ‘Chants de l’Amour’, 1982-1984, in: Écrits ou l’invention de la musique spectrale, édition établie par Guy Lelong avec la collaboration d’Anne-Marie Réby, Paris: Éditions Musica Falsa, 2008, pp. 144-149.

Cohen-Levinas, Danielle, La voix au delà du chant, Paris: Michel de Maule, 1987, pp. 258-270.



Les Chants de l’Amour pour douze voix mixtes et bande, in: Base de documentation sur la musique contemporaine, Ircam: (last accessed July 30, 2016)

Xavier Rodet, Yves Potard, Jean-Baptiste Barrière, CHANT – de la synthèse de la voix chantée à la synthèse en général, PUBRapport Ircam 35/85, 1985, COPCopyright © Ircam – Centre Georges-Pompidou 1985: (last accessed July 30, 2016)


CD releases (selection)

Kairos (2008): “Le Temps et l’Écume. Les Chants de l’Amour”. Schola Heidelberg, conductor Walter Nußbaum. 0012752KAI


Schematic Overview

Piece information

Composer Gérard Grisey
Title Les Chants de l’Amour
Year 1982-84
Studio IRCAM
Type Mixed choir and 4 channel tape
Duration ca. 34’40’’
Publisher Ricordi


Performance material

Renter Ricordi © 1984, R. 2363
Format Score + DVD
SR/Bittiefe 48 Hz /16 Bit
Duration 34’40’’


Archival material

Paul Sacher Stiftung Drafts and sketches; Audio material
Ircam Technical rider and synoptic chart


Commercial releases (selection):

Kairos 2008 Kairos  0012752KAI. “Le Temps et l’Écume. Les Chants de l’Amour”. Schola Heidelberg, Walter Nußbaum