Karlheinz Essl

more or less

realtime composition for computer-controlled soloists

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One of Germany’s leading new music groups is turning its gaze southwards. On “Alpenglühen”, the ensemble Integrales is following in the footsteps of a young generation of Austrian composers, always in search of a recognisable local school. The result of their quest is pleasantly contradictory: No, a seamless and unified Austrian identity in new music doesn’t exist. But yes, there are several singular Austrian tonal identities which share a pool of adjacent techniques and the will to go beyond the usual predefined restrictions of the contemporary composition community. Five pieces by protagonists like Wolfram Schurig, Wolfgang Suppan, Karlheinz Essl, Christof Dienz and Bernhard Gander are closely examined and performed with exploratory zest, bringing out both aspects of the projects: The similarities hidden underneath the surface and the distinct differences which are just as essential in carving out a national musical identity. (...)

Karlheinz Essl’s more or less, realised over a majestic stretch of eight years, builds a nervous tension arch from buzzing strings and itching synthetic structures, counterpointing percussive outbursts with moments of dark reflection in a piece which heavily relies on improvisation.

CD Alpenglühen (col legno 2008)

CD review by Tobias Fischer, tokafi (16 Nov 2008)


Performance at Antwerp

Champ d'action performing "more or less"
  more or less is an computer-driven realtime composition where the musicians do not reproduce parts of a fixed score. Instead of executing a pre-fabricated text from note sheets, they are viewing computer monitors which display random-generated playing instructions.

playing instructions

During the performance of the piece the musicians can make queries to their computers asking for playing instructions whenever they feel a necessity for it. Furthermore, a random-generated Haiku is created whenever a musician receives a new instruction from the computer. This is a three-liner providing a puzzle which has to be "solved" by the musicians and which will influence the interpretation of the required structure to a great extend.


Karlheinz Essl giving a masterclass about more or less
Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo (Ontario) - 15 Feb 2012


more or less performed at Project Arts Center, Dublin (22 Oct 2011)
Julie Maisel: flute, Adrian Mantu: cello, Roger Moffat: percussion, Karlheinz Essl: electronics

more or less performed by Ensemble Intègrale
Malmö, Palladium (S) on 29 Mar 2007, festival Connect 2007
Burkhard Friedrich: saxophone, Barbara Lueneburg: violin
Ashley Hribar: piano, Oleg Dziewanowski: percussion


more or less performed by Ensemble Intègrales and Karlheinz Essl
Vienna, 12 Oct 2007


The piece is based on 5 different types of musical structures (gestures) that have to be improvised by the musicians according to the description given below. As long as a certain structure is valid, the musician improvise a phrase of an indetermined length, followed by a silence which duration is free. The steady alternation between phrases (a time span filled with sound) and silence (a time span with no sound) is continued for the whole duration of one structure. Before the next structure begins, the musician will receive a pause of undetermined length.

The main idea of the piece consists in the mutual reactions of the musicians to each other by fulfilling the given structural requirements on the one hand; on the other hand, they have to adjust their individual playing by observing the "global context" that is created between the musicians during the run of the performance.

By clicking on the title of the following examples, you can listen to variants of those structures which have been worked out and played by Karlheinz Essl on his m@ze°2 improvisation environment:

Select one long sustained sound and play it as long as you wish. Make a pause which length you determine yourself, and the play the same sound again. Continue this operation as long as this structure lasts in a soft dynamic with long crescendo and decrescendo.

Create pulsations by repeating short percussive sounds on a time grid which tempo can be determined at will. This grid can be excavated by pauses, and it is also possible to superimpose several layers with different tempi.

Build up a climax of little heterogenous elements by increasing their energy, dynamic and density. Immediately after the climax, the structure explodes (so to speak) and evaporates in the sense of a liquidation by applying ritardando and decrescendo.

Introduce the concept of "falling" in your playing by using methods like: glissando downwards, descending scales, decrescendo, ricochet-like repetitions, ritardando etc. A phrase consists of one "falling" gesture, followed by a pause of unspecified length.

A mass structure composed of little sound grains in different transpositions that follow a certain shape. The inner tempo of this texture must be high enough so that the impression of a "moving static" (what an exquisite paradox!) is achieved.


Universal Binary more or less 1.3 for Mac OS X (10.3.9 or later) - Universal Binary NEW
released 16 Jan 2007: zip archive (3.8 MB)

MacOS X more or less 1.2 for Mac OS X (10.2 or later) - PPC only
released 18 Feb 2004: Apple disk image (0.7 MB)

HTML more or less 1.1.3 for any operating system (Windows, Unix, Linux)
released 11 Nov 2008: HTML/Javascript


You can create your individual playing instructions on your mobile phone or tablet just by opening this link:



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Updated: 21 Jun 2016