Karlheinz Essl attended the Vienna Musikhochschule (1979--87), where he studied composition with Friedrich Cerha and electro-acoustic music with Dieter Kaufmann. He also studied musicology and art history at the University of Vienna (doctorate 1989 with his thesis Das Synthese-Denken bei Anton Webern). Active as a double bassist until 1984, he played in chamber and experimental jazz ensembles. As a composer he has contributed to the Projekt 3 composition programming environment of Gottfried Michael Koenig at Utrecht and Arnheim (1988-89) which later transformed into his own Real Time Composition Library (RTC-lib) for Max/MSP/Jitter.
Essl also served as composer-in-residence at the Darmstadt summer courses (1990-94) and completed a commission for IRCAM (Paris) in 1993. Between 1995-2006 he taught Algorithmic Composition at the Studio for Advanced Music & Media Technology at the Bruckner University, Linz. Since 2007, he is professor of composition for electro-acoustic and experimental music at the Vienna University of Music and Performing Arts.
His work with computers (with emphasis on Algorithmic Composition and generative art) and a prolonged occupation with the poetics of serial music have been a formative influence on his compositional thinking. He has frequently sought to combine music with other genres and has collaborated with the graffiti artist Harald Naegeli (Partikel-Bewegungen, 1991), the writer Andreas Okopenko and the artists' group "Libraries of the Mind" (Lexikon-Sonate, 1992--8), the architect Carmen Wiederin (Klanglabyrinth, 1992-95), the video artist Vibeke Sorensen (MindShipMind, 1996, a multimedia installation for the Internet) and the artist Jonathan Meese (generative video and sound environment FRÄULEIN ATLANTIS, 2007).
During the 1990s he carried out many projects for the Internet and became increasingly involved with improvisation.
Being portrayed as an emerging composer at the festival WIEN MODERN 1989, he was featured at the Salzburg Festival 1997 with concerts and sound installations.
Besides writing instrumental music, Karlheinz Essl also works in the field of electronic music, interactive realtime compositions and sound installations. He develops software environments for algorithmic composition and acts as a performer and improviser, utilzing his own computer-based real time composition environment m@ze°2 and also instruments like electric guitar, toy piano and music box.
Karlheinz Essl's works has been performed at the most important music festivals in Europe and the United States such as Wien modern (Vienna), Salzburg Festival (Salzburg), Musikprotokoll (Graz), überGrenzen (Berlin), Ars Musica (Brussels), Musica Presente (Milano), Presences (Paris), Sonar (Barcelona), Time of Music (Finland), ISEA (Chicago), Convergence (New London), NEMO (Chicago), ISCM World Music Days (Romania), ULTRASCHALL (Berlin), Foro Internacional de Música Nueva (Mexico City), Art meets Media (Tokyo), Festival d'Automne (Paris), Musica Viva (Porto), Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival etc.
He is collaborating with high-class ensembles such as the Arditti Quartet (London), Ensemble Modern (Frankfurt), Het Nieuw Ensemble (Amsterdam), Ensemble InterContemporain (Paris), Klangforum (Vienna), Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna, ensemble recherche (Freiburg), Champ d’Action (Antwerp) and with outstanding soloists like Irvine Arditti, Barbara Lüneburg, Isabel Ettenauer and Seth Josel.