Distinguished Speaker 1 – Karlheinz Essl

Lecture and Performance

with Tim Brady, Lori Freedman, Amy Horvey, Guy Pelletier, Brigitte Poulin
Friday, September 23, 2011
4 to 6:30pm

Thanks to the development of fast and affordable computers within the last decade, electronic music composition has reached a new level. Formerly time-consuming operations like sound processing or complex control systems can now be executed in real time. By this, the act of composition becomes an interactive experience that enables the composer to get into immediate contact with the sound material. Composition transforms itself from the mere reproduction of a fixed work into a flexible process which is open to interpretation and even improvisation. The old dichotomies of work vs. process, composition vs. improvisation, and even composer vs. instrumentalist now become obsolete.

For over twenty-five years, Austrian composer Karlheinz Essl has worked in the field of Algorithmic Composition and Realtime Control. He has developed software environments for computer-controlled composition, notably including his widely-used “Realtime Composition Library” (RTC-lib) for MaxMSP, which he started to develop in 1992 at IRCAM in Paris. Through this software environment, he has created a large variety of works in the domains of generative music, sound and multimedia installation, instruments with live-electronics, and his electronic instrument m@ze°2, used in his solo concerts and for free improvisation.

As part of Hexagram-Concordia’s Distinguished Speakers Series, Essl will present a variety of works centered around selected pieces of his 14-part cycle Sequitur for solo instruments and live-electronics, in which the electronic part is generated in real time solely by the live input of the instruments. Essl will also present some of his sound installations, including Lexikon-Sonate for computer-controlled piano, which he has transformed into computer-based instruments for live performance. Finally, a live-electronic rendering of his blurred for alto flute, cello, and vibraphone with live-electronics will be performed.

Location: Hexagram Black Box EV Building, S3.845 Concordia University 1515 St. Catherine W. Montreal QC


Born in 1960 in Vienna, Karlheinz Essl is an Austrian composer, performer, improviser, media artist and composition teacher. Essl attended the Vienna Musikhochschule, where he studied composition with Friedrich Cerha and electro-acoustic music with Dieter Kaufman, and the University of Vienna, where he completed a doctorate in musicology and art history. Active as a double bassist until 1984, he played in chamber and experimental jazz ensembles. As a composer, he has contributed to the Projekt 3 composition programming environment of Gottfried Michael Koenig at Utrecht and Arnheim (1988-89), which later transformed into his own Real Time Composition Library (RTC-lib) for Max/MSP/Jitter. Essl served as composer-in-residence at the Darmstadt summer courses (1990–94) and completed a commission for IRCAM (Paris) in 1993. From 1995 to 2006, he taught Algorithmic Composition at the Studio for Advanced Music & Media Technology at the Bruckner University, Linz. Since 2007, he is professor of composition for electro-acoustic and experimental music at the Vienna University of Music and Performing Arts.

His work with computers (with emphasis on Algorithmic Composition and generative art) and a prolonged occupation with the poetics of serial music have been the formative influences in his compositional thinking. He has frequently sought to combine music with other genres and has collaborated with the graffiti artist Harald Naegeli, the writer Andreas Okopenko, the architect Carmen Wiederin, the video artist Vibeke Sorensen and the artist Jonathan Meese.

photo © Reinhard Mayr 2011

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