“No-Input Mixer Studies”
In 2022, Essl embarked on a daring exploration of new avenues in electronic music, shifting away from computers and digital tools to embrace the captivating world of analog modular synthesizers. This artistic journey birthed two captivating works: “Coastlines,” a work-in-progress performed on a MakeNoise O-COAST modular synth, and the suite “Throbbing Crystals,” a four-movement masterpiece played on a Doepfer DARK ENERGY synth. In these compositions, Essl discarded conventional keyboards and sequencers, opting instead for non-linear feedback systems that offered chaotic and enthralling sonic landscapes. He likened performing live on this “wild instrument” to riding a spirited horse across Lake Constance, where constant control and adjustment of countless knobs forged an unforgettable sonic trail.
In 2023, Essl ventured further into the uncharted territory of sound by exploring a broken analog mixer he stumbled upon in his studio. Remaining faithful to the concept of non-linear feedback systems, he experimented with different modes of interaction, generating sounds solely by feeding the output back into the input. This unique approach was orchestrated through instrumental control, utilizing faders and knobs to manipulate the sound, with even the slightest finger movement causing dramatic shifts in the sonic output.
In a whirlwind of creativity spanning just three days, from July 3 to 5, 2023, Essl recorded the seven tracks that comprise his magnum opus “Studies for No-Input Mixer.” Each track employed a distinct number of “voices” arranged in counterpoint, paying homage to Conlon Nancarrow’s legendary “Studies for Player Piano,” which served as an inspirational and motivational source, pushing Essl to brave the unexplored territories of sound.
Beyond his remarkable accomplishments as a composer and performer, Essl’s journey in music has been enriched by diverse roles as an improviser, media artist, and software developer. He studied composition under Friedrich Cerha in Vienna and furthered his passion for musicology, completing his studies with a dissertation on Anton Webern. His tenure as composer-in-residence at the Darmstadt Summer School (1990-94) and IRCAM in Paris (1991-93) further fueled his artistic growth.
With a profound affinity for the poetics of serial music, Essl’s pioneering work with computers and algorithmic composition significantly influenced his approach to composition. During the 1990s, he explored innovative projects for the Internet while increasingly immersing himself in the world of improvisation. His prominence as a composer led to his feature at the prestigious Salzburg Festival in 1997.
In addition to his work in instrumental music, Karlheinz Essl is a trailblazer in electronic music, interactive real-time compositions, and sound installations. He crafts software environments to facilitate algorithmic composition and live electronics, allowing him to play his unique computer-based composition setups, as well as an array of instruments ranging from toy piano and electric guitar to analog synthesizers.
Karlheinz Essl’s musical odyssey is one of constant exploration and innovation, pushing the boundaries of modern music aesthetics and leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of contemporary electronic and experimental music.