Performance Practice
of Electroacoustic Music

Luciano Berio



Luciano Berio composed Différences between 1958 and 1959 for the Domaine musical. The work is dedicated to Henri Pousseur and was premiered within the Concerts du domaine musical on March 14, 1959 at the Salle Gaveau in Paris under the direction of Pierre Boulez; the musicians were Jacques Castagner, flute; Guy Deplus, clarinet; Serge Collot, viola; Jean Huchot, cello and Francis Pierre, harp.

Berio began by recording sections for solo instruments or for different combinations of the five, working with the same musicians that would publicly perform the piece just over a year later. The passages, recorded in Paris, were then transformed and edited at the Studio di Fonologia in Milan to create the tape (Berio (2007), p. 144), which is diffused over four loudspeakers while the live quintet plays. Berio made some adjustments after the première, simplifying the part of the harp and the notation in some three pages (Berio (2013), p. 395, note no. 1).

One of the main compositional ideas in Différences was to have the tape function as an image of the instrumental ensemble, oscillating between varying degrees of proximity and distance to it. In his conversations with Rossana Dalmonte, Berio states:

“In the case of Différences, the original model of the five instruments coexists alongside its image, which is continually modified until the different phases of transformation create an image that is completely modified and has nothing to do with the original image […] all ensuing phases of transformation (there are five) depart from (and end at) the highest degree of identity and fusion with the musical characters the instrumental group develops on stage. On the other hand, the instrumental group follows, provokes and confirms as best it can the electroacoustic transformations on the tape, which here partially acquires the function of a distorting mirror: it deforms and transforms the density of the instrumental group, it transforms its dimensions, the speed of articulation, the intensity, the harmonic characters and also the properties of the acoustic whole. There is a kind of implicit musical dramaturgy within the different phases of transformation and their interrelations, always different, between performance and recording; I also understand Pousseur, to whom the piece is dedicated, who proposes hearing Différences like a scene from the Commedia dell’Arte, with different characters taking turns, picking on each other, putting on a mask, taking it off etc. I understand this, but I do not agree. The course of Différences, anchored firmly in the five instruments on stage, is constituted by two simultaneous developments, by different dimensions of the same material.” (Berio (2007), pp. 144).

Contemplating the significance of Différences within Berio’s oeuvre, Osmond-Smith points out some specific tendencies anticipating his later work: “[the] ebb and flow between natural and transformed sound was the harbinger of [Berio’s] work during the seventies and eighties on real-time transformation of instrumental sound […] It also anticipated one of the hallmarks of his large-scale work: a pleasure in mapping out a field of compositional possibilities between poles that may at first glance seem distant, even incompatible […] In Différences, the distance is not yet that great, but Berio’s appetite for setting up fruitful contradiction within which to work is already in evidence” (Osmond-Smith (1991), p. 15).

In 1998, Kilian Schwoon was approached by Berio to realize a new edition in order to facilitate performance, an undertaking that was completed only after the composer’s death (s. Sources, Score).


Performance material

– UE No. 31387 (2007)
Practical edition by Kilian Schwoon and Francesco Giomi (Tempo Reale, Florence) intended to “facilitate performances as much as possible […] [It was] prepared with the advice and collaboration of Pierre Boulez who used a preliminary version in autumn 2004 for two concerts with the Ensemble InterContemporain in Turin and Milan” (See Score, Foreword). The score includes Berio’s notation of the tape with different degrees of detail and freedom, which has been corrected and enhanced by the editors for practical reasons.
The foreword contains a “Seating plan and loudspeaker positioning, together with a technical plan for signal routing”. The performance material includes individual instrumental parts.

The tape part is available with the edition in CD format and has a very good sound quality. For the edition clicks and crackles were eliminated but no noise reduction was used (s. foreword). The tape part contains 10 separate audio tracks to be started separately that correspond to the original tape parts I-VI with part V divided into five single tracks. In some cases (e.g. track 1), synchronization points in the tape refer to a segment of the instrumental part defined by Berio using two dotted lines. This suggests a certain degree of flexibility for the conductor and the tape performer.


– UE No. 13247 (1961)
Autograph score, Copyright Universal Edition, Milano, 1961.


Archival material

Paul Sacher Stiftung

– Drafts (1 page + 3 pages in Passaggio).
– Live recording from Prato (21.03.1992, M. Ceccanti, dir., Contempoartensemble (published on Arts Music ‎– 447135-2)) and Basel 20.10.1961, Hamburger Kammersolisten, F. Travis, dir.)


Editorial instruction

Spatial disposition of LS and musicians:

A system with a minimum of four loudspeakers is required (see score); a variation of the numbers of loudspeakers must leave unaltered the principle of alternation between the loudspeakers positioned close behind the musicians and those positioned more widely.


The performance tradition reflected by the editors suggest simple spatial movements according to the sonic “difference” between instrumental sound and tape: the inner speakers 2 and 3, close to the ensemble, should be used for untransformed sounds (sections I, II and VI), the outer speakers 1 and 4 for transformed sounds (sections III, IV and V). In those sections different perspectives can be achieved manually combining both inner and outer speakers or using only the speakers 1 and 4.


Performance report

The piece was performed in concert at the conclusion of the third workshop on January 28, 2016 at ZHdK, large hall. Performers were Tomomi Matsuo, flute; Felix Behringer, clarinet; Polina Skryabina, harp; Grigory Maximenko, viola; Isabel Gehweiler, cello. The performance was directed by Georg Köhler, the sound projection was realized by Carlos Hidalgo and Florian Bogner with advice by Kilian Schwoon.

Playing engine

A MAX-patch was developed for performance. During rehearsals a DAW (Reaper) was used in order to allow for easy cueing with markers.


No amplification of the instruments was used. This may however be an option when playing in very large halls.

Sound projection

The possibility of widening the stereo image with an additional pair of loudspeakers (5-6) hung from the ceiling left and right stage front was used (s. diagram). In the passages of the tape that consist mainly of unprocessed instrumental sounds, the stereo image was kept inside the ensemble (speakers 2 and 3). As the tape sounds become more “electronic”, the projection of the stereo image was widened, opening it manually to loudspeakers 1-4 and 5-6.



The start level of each tape fragment was carefully fixed with the ensemble. This work has to be done allowing for enough rehearsal time in the concert hall for the playing of the tape with the ensemble on stage.


The monitoring of the tape by the musicians may become an issue in larger halls when broadening the stereo image (s. above), because the sound will “pass over their heads” and become more difficult to hear and coordinate with. Keeping the sounds on the loudspeakers behind the ensemble and changing only the level of the outer speakers helps with this issue.


Clear exposed pitch relationships between instruments and tape can be tricky since the tuning in the tape is not consistent throughout. For instance: the d1 in the viola at the beginning of track 1 is quite sharp (standard pitch approx. 446 Hz), whereas at the beginning of the second track (d/eb in violoncello) it corresponds approx. to 440 Hz. In such instances the musicians may adapt to the tape. According to Kilian Schwoon, only very few tuning corrections were done in the tape for pronounced deviations (e.g. single clarinet pitches) after consultations with Pierre Boulez.


The original instrumental recordings for the tape contain a great deal of vibrato. The ensemble had to find a compromise taking into account contemporary, more plain, playing styles. This thus becomes an additional “Différence”.

Selected Bibliography

Berio, Luciano, Scritti sulla musica. Torino: Einaudi, 2013, p. 395.

Berio, Luciano, Dalmonte, Rossana, Intervista sulla musica. Editori Laterza, 2007, p. 143.

De Benedictis, Angela Ida, Riflessi del suono elettronico: Sinergie e interazioni nell’orizzonte compositivo di Luciano Berio, in De Benedictis, Angela Ida (ed.), Luciano Berio. Nuove prospettive. Firenze: Olschki, 2012, pp. 293–336.

Osmond-Smith, David, Berio. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 15.

Pousseur, Henri, Erinnerungen an Luciano Berio, in Topographien der Kompositionsgeschichte seit 1950, Wien: Der Apfel, 2011, pp. 1–11.

Stoianova, Ivanka, Luciano Berio: Chemins en musique, in La revue musicale, 375-377 (1985), pp. 388-391.

Schematic Overview

Piece information

Composer Luciano Berio
Title Différences
Year 1958-59
Studio Studio di Fonologia, Milano
Type Flute, clarinet, harp, viola, violin and tape
Duration Approx. 17’
Publisher Universal Edition


Performance material

Audio Audio CD with 10 individual tracks (rent material)
Scores Conducting score and instrumental parts (rent material)


Archival material

Paul Sacher Stiftung Drafts, unpublished live recordings


Commercial releases (selection)

Julliard Ensemble, Luciano Berio, cond. (London, 4/1969) Philips 426 662-2 (CD)