Karlheinz Essl



realtime generated sound scape based on 12 chords of Eric Satie's "Vexations" (1999)

conVex is an infinite realtime composition that was created for a Satie-Night which takes place on Oct 8th, 1999 at the Bruckner-Conservatory in Linz. This event was conceived by the Austrian composer Ines Kargel and focusses towards a particular work by Eric Satie: "Vexation" for piano solo. This piece consists of a single 16-bar phrase which has to be repeated 840 times.

To my knowledge, this piece has never been performed entirely by a single pianist, for rarely anybody is able to play more than six hours without taking a break. Therefore, a phalanx of pianists will execute this piece on a piano that is suspended in the foyer of the conservatory building.

The suspended piano at the Bruckner-Conservatory in Linz

As a comment on that static piece (which serves as an early example of musical minimalism), Ines Kargel asked several composers to use the same material in composing a reflection on Satie's piece.

Listening to a recording of Satie's "Vexations" I found 12 different chords which I extracted as separate audio files. Those chords serve as the only sonic material for conVex. Using random-based algorithms that I have been developing since the mid-80ies (cf. my Realtime Composition Library for MAX) I constructed a program called "composer" which generates a complex rhythmical structure, in which those basic chords (in different transpositions, densities and speed) are inserted and superimposed. By this procedure, a ever-streaming flow of piano sounds is created which never repeats itself. This flow is afterwards fed into a section of signal processing routines where different sonic operations are applied where the pure piano sound is distorted and broken apart. The static of Satie's piece is completely transformed in its sheer contrary: music that evolves like a natural growth process, that goes on forever, without beginning nor end. However, Satie's piece is still constantly present, in different degrees of recognizability; it is like viewing his music through a moving convex mirror.

conVex manifests itself as a computer program written in Max/MSP which runs on an Apple Macintosh computer. It was created between May and September 1999. One can scrutinize the function of this program by clicking on the coloured boxes in the image below.

composer FX-process

clickable map

User interface of conVex (click-able map!)
Click into the color-framed boxes to see their hidden content
- it will show itself in a new window

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Updated: 19 Sep 2004