Karlheinz Essl

Studies for No-Input Mixer

Seven solo performances for analog mixing desk
Nachtstück Records 2023

Liner Notes | Tracklist | Videos | Bio | Download

Cover by Nachtstück Records

Released: 17 Jul 2023

Performed and recorded live at Studio kHz between July 3-5, 2023
Karlheinz Essl: Mackie 1604 VLZ analog mixer
No overdubs, no edits

Nachtstück Records 2023

Liner Notes

Karlheinz Essl (* 1960 in Vienna, Austria) is best known as an avant-garde composer of instrumental and electronic music. He has been working with computers since the 1980s, developing software for algorithmic composition and real-time performance. His RTC-lib (Real Time Composition Library for Max), which he started at IRCAM (Paris) in 1991, is still widely used in the computer music community.

In 2022, Essl began to explore other ways of creating electronic music without computers and digital tools, using analog modular synthesizers. This resulted in the work-in-progress Coastlines (performed on a MakeNoise O-COAST modular synth) and the suite in four movements Throbbing Crystals (played on a Doepfer DARK ENERGY synth) without keyboards or sequencers.

Essl writes: "During my research, I discovered how feedback routings can create nonlinear systems with chaotic behavior that sound fascinating. However, this requires constant balancing of the control signals with the countless knobs. Performing live on this newly constructed 'instrument' becomes an adventure that leaves a sonic trail: It's like riding a wild horse across Lake Constance.1

A year later, in 2023, Essl abandoned the synthesizer and began experimenting with a broken analog mixer he found in his studio. Retaining the idea of non-linear feedback systems, he explored different kinds of interaction on this analog device, generating sounds only by feeding the output back into the input, which he controlled in an instrumental manner with faders and knobs, where the slightest movement of the fingers can drastically change the sound.

In just three days - between July 3 and 5, 2023 - Essl recorded the 7 tracks of his Studies for No-Input Mixer. Each track uses a different number of "voices" in a kind of counterpoint. The title pays tribute to Conlon Nancarrow's famous "Studies for Player Piano", which serves as a subliminal source of inspiration and motivation to venture much further into the unknown.



Karlheinz Essl (b. 1960 in Vienna) is an Austrian composer, performer, improviser, software developer, media artist, and composition teacher.

He studied composition in Vienna with Friedrich Cerha and completed his musicology studies with a dissertation on Anton Webern. He was composer-in-residence at the Darmstadt Summer School (1990-94) and at IRCAM in Paris (1991-93). From 1995-2006 he taught algorithmic composition at the Bruckner University in Linz. Since 2007 he is professor for composition and electroacoustic music at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. From 1992 to 2016 he was music curator at the Essl Museum in Klosterneuburg.

His work with computers and a longtime preoccupation with the poetics of serial music have been formative influences on his compositional thinking. During the 1990s he developed several projects for the Internet and became increasingly involved in improvisation. In 1997 Karlheinz Essl was a featured composer at the Salzburg Festival.

In addition to writing instrumental music, Karlheinz Essl also works in the areas of electronic music, interactive real-time compositions, and sound installations. He develops software environments for algorithmic composition and live electronics. As a performer and improviser, he plays his own computer-based composition environments as well as instruments such as toy piano, electric guitar, and analog synthesizer.


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Updated: 18 Jul 2023