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AMORGOS(Opus 38)
August 197912'15Mixed music


Original information

The recorded part consists exclusively of almost unmanipulated water sounds, all chosen for their rhythmic percussive character, and not for the usual connotations of fluidity or continuity.
As in the other works exploring this method (particularly Naluan and Maraé), the stages of the work were: choice, recording, selection, editing, transcription and orchestration of the sounds.

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Amorgos is the island in the Cyclades where many of the most beautiful ‘idols’ have been found, probably carved around 4,500 years ago by the mysterious Lelege civilisation. Most of the recordings used were made on the shores of this island.


When, in 1965, I chose the island of Amorgos to buy a plot of land with the intention of building a holiday home, I was seduced by the somewhat wild purity of the island and by the archaeological aura of a place that was once a centre of Cycladic culture. The desert island of Keros, less than six miles away, was probably the main religious centre of this pre-Hellenic population, whose very name is dubious: Pelasges, Leleges, Carians?
When I later succeeded in building the house that Xenakis had designed for me, I listened for a long time to the sounds of the nearby sea caves, and it was there that I made several of the recordings that serve as the framework for this work.
Transcribing the sounds of water is a challenge that I found stimulating. In 1979, no automatic transcription programme had been developed, to my knowledge at least. All I had at my disposal was a bathygraph (dynamics analyser), which scrolled somewhat irregularly to give me a fairly rough idea of the peaks. I opted for a combination of four or five kinds of transcriptions used in parallel: chronometric cutting, bathygraphic reading, measured transcription of rhythmic peaks and corresponding pitch registers, notation of dynamic fluctuations, and a few more subjective onomatopoeia. The choice of a quarter note tempo of 120 and ‘measures’ in 2/4 time meant that these could be aligned with the seconds on the stopwatch. It was this latter tool that was, if not the conductor’s main guide, at least a safeguard for synchronising the instruments and the medium of the time, a magnetic tape.
While respecting the raw, elemental nature of the recordings chosen, I helped their rhythmic content to manifest itself by sometimes subjecting them to a noise gate that emphasised the dynamic accents. This is the only manipulation, apart from editing, that I have subjected them to.
The imagination underlying this kind of composition, which is largely modelled on the rhythms and sounds of natural elements, is obviously of the sacred order, in other words the search for an adequacy with a truth that pre-dates all language and all concern for purely human expressivity. While animal models postulate a certain order common to the biosphere, elemental models renounce this very order, and in their own way echo what Xenakis evoked when he spoke of “an immediate, rare, enormous and perfect truth”.


2 bsn, 2 tbn, 2 perc. (1 also elec. organ), 1 pno, 2 vl., 1 vla., 1 vc., 1 db., fixed sounds

First performance

11/16/79 Metz, Festival, (2E2M dir. L.Vis).



Commissioned by

commande de l'État

Dedicated to


disque Amorgos

Ina-GRM Musidisc 292602

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