Karlheinz Essl


Three Deconstructions on Richard Wagner

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Album WAGNERIANA by Karlheinz Essl (Radical Matters 2013)

Released: 22 Nov 2013
Radical Matters

At the risk of overstatement, one might argue that repeated exposure to Essl's Wagneriana - Three Deconstructions on Richard Wagner could result in the listener never hearing the composer's operas in the same way again.

CD review by Ron Schepperd
in: textura.org (January 2014)


1 WalkürenWalk
electronic sound performance for computer and controllers
Recorded live at Studio kHz on 22 March 2013
2 Tristan's Lament
electronic sound performance for computer and controllers
Recorded live at Studio kHz on 25 Apr 2013
3 Parsifal-Kristall
electronic sound environment
Produced at Studio kHz and on the train to Munich in June 2013

Karlheinz Essl im Wagner-Keller 2013 (Foto: Anna Fiala)

Liner Notes

Susanne Vill: Wagner in Softwa[e]re
Remarks about Karlheinz Essl's deconstructions of Richard Wagner

The Three Magi from out of the East brought gold, frankincense and myrrh in honor of the newborn Christ and received comfort and hope from his epiphany. In 2013, Karlheinz Essl has created algorithmic computer software to decompose and deconstruct some small excerpts from The Ring of the Nibelung, Tristan and Isolde and Parsifal for Richard Wagner’s 200th anniversary. Even though being afflicted with the Nazi’s depravation of Wagner’s works, Essl decided to work on his resistant fascination for Wagner’s sound art.

For WalkürenWalk, an electronic sound performance for computer and controllers, Essl has chosen a fragment of 30 seconds from Wagner’s “Ride of the Walkyries”, segmented into tiny sound grains which are overlapped and re-combined during the course of a live-performance. These “nano”-particles reveal certain sub¬structures of the music like a view through a microscope. In his adaptation, the music dismisses has lost the monumentality and powerful image of Wagner’s Walkyries, the messengers of death, who retrieved the dead heroes from the battlefields and brought them to Walhall, where they were revitalized for the ultimate battle - the Twilight of the Gods.

In the crackling impulse sequences, certain aspects of Wagner’s sound spectrum become evident, although in an alienated manner. But the rhythms skeletonize the energetic momentum and the magnificence of the heroines of death as if the music would rather depict Gustav Mahler’s ghost army in Revelge. It draws the listener’s attention away from the triumphant war goddesses towards the miserable victims, who’s lives they take.

For every performance the musical material is recomposed in realtime, thus creating new syntheses – like in every war others die, soldiers and heroes, without any pomp.

Tristan’s Lament
seems to allude Tristan’s complaint in the third act, when he is sick to death awaiting his beloved and “best doctor”, Isolde. However, Essl has chosen a sequence from the prelude, and by a program written in MaxMSP he moves through the sound in slow motion, back and forth, quicker and slower, until the time flow stops. In every performance, the live improvised reconstruction creates new variations – endless configurations of an endless melody.

Tristan Chord (piano reduction)

In Wagner’s prelude, the “awful yearning” implies the longing for love in every person of the play, and it is musicalized in chromatic shifts and the famous Tristan chord, that has broken the traditional tension patterns of tonality. Sighs and suspensions claim for solutions, which Essl denies, again and again turning back, as if the loops of increasing tension could prolong the bittersweet pain of expecting love in missing it. A sudden “forte” dies away, there is no increasing progression towards a climax, no breakthrough into bliss – not even the bliss of death –, just a startling outbreak, isolated like Tristan’s screams in his dismal solitude. In unexpected breaks the music is torn to tatters – like Tristan tatters his bandage to open his wound for Isolde’s healing – but the abrupt pieces remain splintered and deny any hope for an embedding, comforting continuity. Every fade away of the rough sounds turns into deprivation, a small death beyond love. Layers of adapted sequences form dissonant cluster areas, which fade into courses of rootless slides like sirens of futility.

transforms the salvation choir from Wagner’s sacred festival drama by utilizing a new technique for his “art of transition”. The music of the finale, which dissolves all the dramatic tensions and conciliates all the contrasts of Wagner’s music drama, now runs backwards, beginning with the last crescendo and leading into clusters of interleaving layers of the musical material, as if Wagner’s promise of blessedness should again be questioned.

Essl stretches the reversed sound segments of Wagner's original once, twice, four times and eight times. Like loops, these musical layers are interwoven into a texture. The composer controls the algorithmic mixture of the material creating individual combinations. In spite of his complex deconstruction, Essl saves the aura of Wagner’s homophonic music. In a process of condensation and equalization, the blurred transitions develop a musical dramaturgy of their own. This soundscape recalls Mahler’s polyphony, which let music of different origins sound together, and it also recalls György Ligeti’s technique of structural blurring in pieces like Lux aeterna.

In Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, the Holy Grail is a stone that had fallen from heaven. Essl imagines it as a crystal, and its kaleidoscopic light refractions open ever-changing views on new horizons. Beyond the urge of a formal order of succession, every instant becomes a moment of fulfillment.


WAGNERIANA: booklet page 2
WAGNERIANA: booklet page 3


Edition design: Sandro Gronchi
Photo collage and stereographic design by Andrea Sozzi
Images taken from the book Murmùrios do tempo - A dad stereoscopic gothic novel

Photos: Anna Fiala / Jack Hauser

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