Karlheinz Essl

FontanaMixer

generative sound environment
after "Fontana Mix" (1958) by John Cage
2004-2012


Reviews


Sound generators for video soundtracks (Rudolf Boogerman)
in: Miracle Tutorials (22 Mar 2017)

FontanaMixer is a generative sound environment based on John Cage‘s conceptual piece Fontana Mix (1958), by the Austrian composer Karlheinz Essl. Like the other sound generators discussed here, FontanaMixer also creates random sound compositions.

At first, FontanaMixer was a bit disappointing for me because you have no control over what happens. It is literally a digital version of what John Cage had in mind when he dreamed up random procedures to create music which is free of personal taste. It happily randoms along, so to speak. There are 4 base sounds that are used to create the sound effects, like phrase, duration, speed, offset, transposition and reverb. The default installed sounds are interesting in itself: John Cage’s own voice, Street ambiance, Nature and Art (a Karlheinz Essl creation). It is possible to change those sounds by replacing them with mono files in AIF format. At that point, it becomes more interesting because at least you can control which sounds are used. And that influences the outcome considerably.

For the first test, I exchanged the human voice with the sound of water, a sound loop I recorded myself and converted it mono. Karlheinz recommends an audio file no longer than 2 minutes for the best result. I left the other default sound files in there. It didn’t change dramatically, but at least the rather unearthly human voice was gone. It uttered distinctive words from time to time, which I couldn’t use in my project.

You can see (and hear) the end result of the first experiment here.


From Tape Recorders to Laptops - The Evolution of Fontana Mix (Thom Holmes)
in: Electronic and Experimental Music: Technology, Music, and Culture (Routledge 2008)

(...) Yet another laptop version of Fontana Mix was developed by the Austrian composer Karlheinz Essl (b. 1960) in 2004. Essl's version, also called FontanaMixer, is a completeley self-generating sound environment that the composer programmed using Max/MSP. Adhering to Cage's instructions, and providing for sound channels as in Cage's four-track tape version, Essl's program uses chance-based operations to assign values to each of six possible parameters affecting the sound source. The audio sources become highly modified using granular synthesis techniques. Essl's FontanaMixer is provided with four sound sources including the voice of John Cage and nature sounds, but the user is invited to replace any of the given sources with audio tracks of their own. (...)


Tools We Use: Random Noises (Matt Neuburg)
in: TidBITS #761 (10 Jan 2005)

Composer Karlheinz Essl is single-handedly responsible for several interesting real-time music-generation applications. His FontanaMixer is an attempt to recreate a famous aleatory John Cage piece; it's remarkable, but it grabs most of your CPU, making it hard to get anything else done, and its sounds are raspy and clanky, involve a human voice, and are mixed with long periods of silence, as if someone were muttering while sorting through the garbage cans in an alley.


Great finds worth a download or two (Al Fasoldt)
in: technofile: Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries (18 May 2005)

Finally, I've become fond of a bizarre music generator called FontanaMixer, written by Karlheinz Essl and available free from www.essl.at/software.html. FontanaMixer was inspired by "Fontana Mix," a freeform piece by American composer John Cage. The music FontanaMixer creates is random, interesting and unexpectedly delightful. You'll also be able to listen to and order, on CD, audio performances of Essl's music from www.essl.at/sounds.html. I found them fascinating.


FontanaMixer, simulare John Cage con algoritmi (Alessandro Ludovico)
in: neural.it: Hacktivism, E-Music, New Media Art (16 Jun 2005)

La codifica di lavori concettuali in codice di programmazione è una particolare forma di 'digitalizzazione' che implica passaggi mediatici (ossia da un medium materiale ad un altro immateriale) non trascurabili, pur se al contempo ne sublima le idee nella resa perenne degli algoritmi. FontanaMixer è un software generativo basato su 'Fontana Mix', lavoro concettuale di John Cage del 1958, programmato in ambiente Mac dall'austriaco Karlheinz Essl a quasi mezzo secolo di distanza. La partitura , composta di 'istruzioni' fatte da punti, linee e grafici, sovrapposte attraverso fogli trasparenti in maniera casuale, calcolava sei diversi parametri in base ai quali determinare ogni singolo evento sonoro, con la scelta degli stessi parametri lasciata libera all'interprete. Questa anarchica libertà d'interpretazione, che Cage collegava alla liberazione dal gusto personale ricollegandosi agli eventi naturali, senza un ordine apparente, si riflette nella codifica effettuata con quattro canali autonomi e parametri che si modificano autonomamente sotto gli occhi del fruitore. La teatralità del lavoro scompare, e con lei anche la presenza scenica delle apparecchiature (quattro registratori a nastro) utilizzate all'epoca, ma questo lavoro, commissionato dal festival Wien Modern, realizza una sorta di 'cover' software di una storica performance, preservandone, a differenza delle cover puramente 'musicali', i principi ispiratori, ossia il pensiero innovativo che li ha motivati e animati al loro tempo. L'indeterminazione, l'opportunità e il silenzio si ritrovano calcolati da un microprocessore imbeccato dalle istruzioni necessarie, e protagonista della stessa poetica automazione originaria.

Die Kodierung konzeptueller Arbeiten in einer Programmiersprache ist eine besondere Form von 'Digitalisierung', die vermittelnde Übergänge mit sich bringt (d.h. von einem materiellen Medium zu einem anderen, nicht-materiellen), die nicht vernachlässigbar sind, auch wenn sich dabei die Ausgangsidee in der Übertragung als Algorithmus sublimiert. FontanaMixer ist eine generative Software, die auf "Fontana Mix" - einer konzeptuellen Arbeit von John Cage aus dem Jahre 1958 - basiert, und die nach einem halben Jahrhundert in einer Mac-Umgebung von dem Österreicher Karlheinz Essl programmiert wurde. Die aus 'Anweisungen' in Form von Punkten, Linien und Grafiken bestehende Partitur, die mit durchsichtigen Folien zufällig überlagert werden, bezog sechs unterschiedliche Parameter ein, auf dessen Basis jedes einzelne klingende Ereignis bestimmt wird, wobei die Auswahl der Parameter selbst dem Interpreten überlassen blieb. Diese anarchische Interpretationsfreiheit, die Cage mit der Befreiung vom persönlichen Geschmack verband, indem er sich auf natürliche Ereignisse ohne offensichtlicher Ordnung bezog, spiegelt sich in der von Karlheinz Essl erschaffenen Kodifizierung mit vier unabhängigen Kanälen und deren Parametern, die sich autonom vor den Augen des Users verändern. Mit der Theatralität der Arbeit verschwindet auch die szenische Präsenz der Apparatur (vier Tonbandgeräte), die zu jener Zeit verwendet wurde. Diese Umsetzung hingegen, die vom Festival Wien Modern beauftragt wurde, realisiert eine Art 'Cover'-Software einer historischen Performance, wobei im Gegensatz zu strikt musikalischen Cover-Versionen die inspirierenden Prinzipien - also der innovative Gedanke der sie zu ihrer Zeit motiviert und beseelt hat - beibehalten werden. Die Unbestimmtheit, die Möglichkeitsfelder und die Stille werden von einem Mikroprozessor berechnet, der die nötigen Instruktionen erhalten hat - er wird so zum Hauptakteur der ursprünglichen poetischen Automatisierung. (Übersetzung: Silvia E. Pagano)



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Updated: 22 Mar 2017