Karlheinz Essl

Portrait Concert
"New Millennium / New Music"

Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington
Tel: (312) 744-6630

Sun, 18 Apr 1999, 3:00 pm

Free admission

With support from the Austrian Cultural Institute, New York

This concert is focussing on two recent works of the Austrian Composer Karlheinz Essl (* 1960 in Vienna, Austria) where he attempts to redefine and to mediate the old conflict between composition and improvisation. Since the early 90s, Karlheinz Essl (who studied composition at the University of Music in Vienna with Friedrich Cerha) is developing computer-based composition concepts that he calls "Realtime Composition": works that are not presented as fixed scores, but as open processes, that emerge in sound at the moment of the performance due to the interaction between musicians and computer programs.

Champ d'Action (1998) was written for the Belgium Ensemble "Champ d'Action". The piece is represented by a computer program which generate musical notation. Instead of playing a pre-fabricated text from note sheets, the musicians are viewing computer monitors which display playing instructions on the fly. The musicians are improvising those structures according to the given indications which are changed during the concert by the composer via a computer network. For this concert, Karlheinz Essl worked out two versions of different lengths, instrumentation and control strategies.

The last piece of the evening with the title fLOCK is the 7th realisation of the work-in-progress fLOW (1998-99): a site-specific improvisation enviroment based on a realtime generated electronic sound scape. The entire project is carried out in several steps within the time span of a year (between October 1998 and October 1999). It takes place in various location with changing musicians from different fields like New Music, experimental jazz, free improvisation and New Electronic Music. For the Chicago version, an elaborated time score is interpreted by musicians from the Chicago based "Ensemble Noamnesia" together with the composer Karlheinz Essl playing his m@ze°2 (Modular Algorithmic Zound Environment), a computer-based Realtime Composition and Improvisation Environment for electronic sounds.

Karlheinz Essl

The music of the Viennese composer Karlheinz Essl is a case study in the disintegration of boundaries between improvisation and composition. On the 1995 compilation Rudiments (TONOS), which includes several examples of his imaginative abstract writing (Met him pike trousers, Helix 1.0), Essl travels easily between two modes, particulary on Close the Gap, a composition for three tenor saxophones. Though it is driven bey an unmistakable logic, the piece nevertheless reveals many hallmarks of the extended technique practiced by improvisers - the percussive pops, the legato arcs, and the staccato unisons.

For his Chicago debut, with local composer Gene Coleman and his Ensemble Noamnesia, Essl will present several improv-based compositions. These include two versions of his 1998 piece Champ d'Action, the first with saxophonist Jeremy Ruthrauff, bassist Michael Cameron, and percussionist Steve Butters, and the second with flutist Linda Goethe, oboist Kyle Bruckman, Coleman on bass clarinet, and Jeremy Ronkin on French horn. The musicians will be "conducted" by Essl, via a network of laptops, with graphic, verbal, and notated intructions; they'll be given 30 seconds to assimiliate these into the performance, and their contribution must be sensitive to what the other musicians are playing at the time.

Also on the program is a piece called fLOCK, whose score is basically a timetable that tells the musicians (Ronkins, Butters, Essl on electronics, clarinetist Mwata Bowden, and bassist Harrison Bankhead) when to improvise.

Peter Margasak
Chicago Reader (15 Apr 1999)


Karlheinz Essl: Champ d'Action (1998) - "guided" version: 15'

Lisa Goethe: alto flute
Kyle Bruckmann: english horn
Gene Coleman: bass clarinet
Jeremy Ruthrauff: soprano saxophone
Karlheinz Essl: conductor

Karlheinz Essl: Champ d'Action (1998) - "random" version: 15'

Gene Coleman: bass clarinet
Michael Cameron: double bass
Steve Butters: percussion
Karlheinz Essl: conductor

Karlheinz Essl: fLOCK (1999) - 45'

Mawata Bowden: clarinet
Jeremy Ruthrauff: alto saxophone
Harrison Bankhead: double bass
Steve Butters: percussion
Karlheinz Essl: computer (m@ze°2)

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Updated: 26 Feb 2002