Karlheinz Essl

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Karlheinz Essl photographed by Martin Leitner

© 2021 by Martin Leitner


Born in Vienna, 15 Aug 1960. Austrian composer, performer, improviser, media artist and composition teacher.

Karlheinz Essl attended the Vienna Musikhochschule (1981-87), where he studied composition with Friedrich Cerha and electro-acoustic music with Dieter Kaufmann. From 1979, he also studied musicology and art history at the University of Vienna (doctorate 1989 with his thesis Das Synthese-Denken bei Anton Webern). 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 also served as composer-in-residence at the Darmstadt summer courses (1990-94) and at IRCAM (Paris, 1992-1993). Between 1995-2006 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. Between 1992 and 2016, he acted as the music curator of the Essl Museum in Klosterneuburg / Vienna.

His work with computers (with emphasis on Algorithmic Composition and generative art) and a prolonged occupation with the poetics of serial music have been a formative influence on his compositional thinking. He has frequently sought to combine music with other genres and has collaborated with the graffiti artist Harald Naegeli (Partikel-Bewegungen, 1991), the writer Andreas Okopenko and the artists' group "Libraries of the Mind" (Lexikon-Sonate, 1992--8), the architect Carmen Wiederin (Klanglabyrinth, 1992-95), the video artist Vibeke Sorensen (MindShipMind, 1996, a multimedia installation for the Internet) and the artist Jonathan Meese (generative video and sound environment FRÄULEIN ATLANTIS, 2007). Since 2018 he is collaborating with the choreographer Andrea Nagl and the author Erwin Uhrmann.

During the 1990s Karlheinz Essl carried out various projects for the Internet and became increasingly involved with improvisation. At the festival WIEN MODERN 1989 he presented as an emerging composer, and in 1997 he was featured at the Salzburg Festival with portrait concerts and sound installations. In 2003, he was artist-in-residence of the festival musik aktuell, and in 2004 he was presented with a series of portrait concerts at the Brucknerhaus Linz. In 2004, Karlheinz Essl received the cultural prize for music of the state Lower Austria. Since 2020 he is member of Künstlerhaus Vienna.

Besides writing instrumental music, Karlheinz Essl also works in the field of electronic music, interactive realtime compositions and sound installations. He develops software environments for algorithmic composition and acts as a performer and improviser, utilzing his own computer-based real time composition environment m@ze°2 and also instruments like electric guitar, toy piano, music boxes and modular synthesizers.

Karlheinz Essl: Becoming a Composer
Interview at Studio kHz (Klosterneuburg, 21 Aug 2014)
for the oral history project The Bat of Minerva by Peter Shea

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Konzerthaus Vienna, Musikprotokoll (Graz), Kunstradio, IRCAM (Paris), Ensemble Klangforum (Vienna), Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna, Elision Ensemble (Australia), Salzburg Festival, Ensemble Champ d'Action (Belgium), Austrian National Library, Ensemble die reihe (Vienna), trio accanto (Freiburg), festival WIEN MODERN, EOS Quartet (Vienna), Studio Percussion graz, Austrian Cultural Forum (New York), Staatstheater Stuttgart, DIAGONALE - Forum österreichischer Film, musik aktuell 2003, Ensemble Wiener Collage, Donaufestival, Wiener Saxophonquartett, Stanser Musiktage, Linz 2009 - European Capitol of Europe, Música y Escena (Mexico City, 2011), junctQín keyboard collective (Toronto 2012), Klangspuren (2012), Philharmonie Luxembourg (2012), Museum Gugging (2013), Universität Wien (2015), Ganymed Nature (2017), Viertelfestival NÖ (2018), GLOBART Academy (2019), Klangraum Waidhofen (2023), Non-Piano Toy Piano Festival Hamburg (2024, 2025)


Performances at important music festivals, such as WIEN MODERN (Vienna 1989, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2007, 2011, 2020), Hörgänge (Vienna 1992, 1994, 1998, 2002), Musikprotokoll (Graz 1990, 1991, 2021), Schoenberg-Festival (Duisburg 1992), Présences (Paris 1992, 2000), Ars Musica (Bruxelles 1993, 2003, 2009), Biennale (Zagreb 1994, 2003), Time of Music (Viitasaari, Finland 1994), Convergence (Connecticut College, New London 1995, 1997), Sonar (Barcelona 1995), ISCM-Festival (Sofia 1995), Sound of Multimedia (Worcester, MA 1996), NEMO 96 (Chicago 1996), Musica Presente - Musica in Europe (Milano 1996), Salzburg Festival - Next Generation (Salzburg 1997, 2002), ISEA '97 (Chicago), IVth Brazilian Symposion for Computer Music (Brasilia 1997), überGrenzen '97: Österreich - Berlin (Berlin 1997), Architecture and Music Symposion (Linz 1997), ULTRASCHALL (SFB Berlin 1999, 2000), KlangArt 99 (Osnabrück), ISCM World Music Days (Romania 1999), First Iteration - Generative Systems in the Electronic Arts (Monash University, Melbourne, Australia), Fuori di qui (Rome 2000, curated by Cecilia Casorati), Bludenzer Tage für zeitgemäße Musik (Bludenz 2000, 2004), Florida Electroacoustic Festival (Gainesville, Florida 2001), Electronic Music Convention of Switzerland (Bern 2001), Kalvos & Damian Ought-One Festival (Plainfield, Vermont 2001), New Zealand Festival (Wellington 2002), musik aktuell (2003), DIAGONALE (Graz 2003) TRAIETTORIE (Parma 1991, 2003), AKZENTE (Linz 2004), Résonances (Paris 2004), Festival d'Automne (Paris 2004), Art meets Media: Adventures in Perception (Tokyo 2005), HAPPENING - New Music Festival (Calgary 2005), LA Sonic Odyssey (Los Angeles 2005), generator (Vienna 2005), Festival de Música Electroacústica (Querétaro, Mexico 2005), 8° Festival Cultural de Mayo (Guadalajara, Mexico 2005), Komponistenforum Mittersill (2005), TRANSIT (Leuven, Belgium 2005), The New Austrian Sound of Music (Berlin 2005), Extensible Toy Piano Project (Clark University 2005), Sound Ways (St. Petersburg 2005), Österreich tanzt (St. Pölten 2006), Schreyahner Herbst (2006), 19. Tage für Neue Musik (Weimar 2006), Musica Sacra (St. Pölten 2006), Perform.Media (Indiana University 2006), Music in the Global Village (Budapest 2007), Colourscape Music Festival (London 2007), Musica Viva (Porto 2007), International Contemporary Music Festival (Kaunas 2007), The Extensible Electric Guitar (Clark University 2008), NUIT BLANCHE (Toronto, 2008), Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (2008), Musica Electronica Nova (Wrocław 2009), Linz 2009 - European Capitol of Europe (2009), 12th GlobART Academy (2009), Open Music (Graz 2010), KLANGZEIT (Münster 2010), LOOK & LISTEN Festival (New York, 2010), RAFLOST - Icelandic Festival of Electronic Arts (Reykjavik, 2010), Música y Escena (Mexico City, 2011), LOISIARTE 2012, blurred edges (Hamburg, 2012), Klangspuren (Schwaz 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015), Rainy Days: Toy Piano World Summit (Luxembourg 2012), Saxfest Vienna (2013), ISCM World Music Days (Wrocław 2014), UnCaged Toy Piano Festival (New York 2015), Archipel - Musiques d'aujourd'hui (Genève 2016), Vienna International Saxfest (Vienna 2016), PORTO FRANKO GogolFEST (Ivano-Frankivsk, 2016 & 2018), NIME Conference (Brisbane 2016), Florida International Toy Piano Festival (St. Petersburg 2017), Miami International GuitART Festival (Miami 2017), TENOR 2018 (Montreál 2018), Montreal/New Musics 9th edition (Montreál 2019), Toy Music Festival (Seoul 2019 and 2021), ARTESCIENZA (Rome, 2020), Internationale Ensemble Modern Akademie (Frankfurt, 2021), 8th Saint Petersburg International New Music Festival (St. Petersburg, 2021), BRANDNEU - Internationaler Orgelsommer (Kassel, 2022), Gnesin Contemporary Music Week (Moscow, 2022), 4th Toy Music Festival (Seoul, 2023)


Ensembles: Arditti Quartet (London), Ensemble Modern (Frankfurt), Het Nieuw Ensemble (Amsterdam), XASAX (Paris), Ensemble InterContemporain (Paris), Court-Circuit (Paris), Klangforum (Vienna), ensemble xx. jahrhundert (Vienna), Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna, Elision Ensemble (Australia), Schlagquartett Köln, ensemble recherche (Freiburg), Ensemble Köln, Ensemble Noamnesia (Chicago), Wiener Saxophonquartett, 2e2m (Paris), Ensemble United Berlin, Ensemble Champ d'Action (Antwerp, Belgium), ensemble für neue musik zürich (Switzerland), Orpheus Trio (Vienna), Ensemble Kontrapunkte (Vienna), Studio Percussion graz, EOS Quartett (Vienna), Kammerensemblen Stockholm, STROMA Ensemble (Wellington, New Zealand), Ensemble Intégrales (Hamburg), ZWERM - electric guitar quartet (Gent), ensemble reconsil (Vienna), Transmission Ensemble (Montréal), Hugo Wolf Quartett (Vienna), Ensemble 306 (Eindhoven), Trombone Attraction (Vienna) et. al.

Soloists: Elisabeth Flunger (Vienna), Jeffrey Krieger (Manchester, CT), Irvine Arditti (London), Ernst Kovacic (Vienna), Mary Oliver (Amsterdam), Richard Barrett (London), Christian Fennesz (Vienna), Mike Svoboda (Tübingen), Garth Knox (Paris), Martin Siewert (Vienna), Didi Bruckmayr (Linz), Arne Deforce (Gent), Anne LaBerge (Amsterdam), Franz Hautzinger (Vienna), Anton Lukoszevieze (London), Klaus Burger (Baden-Baden), Isabel Ettenauer (St. Pölten) Seth Josel (Berlin), Phyllis Chen (New York), Lars Mlekusch (Vienna), Barbara Lüneburg (Amsterdam), Goska Isphording (Eindhoven), Alexander Bruck (Mexico City), Christian Altenburger (Wien), Martin Mallaun (St. Johann/Tirol), Agnes Heginger (Vienna), Wolfgang Kogert (Vienna), Pier Damiano Peretti (Vienna), Xenia Pestova Bennett (Bangor)

Artists: Harald Naegeli (sprayer), Carmen Wiederin (architect), Andreas Okopenko (writer), Vibeke Sorensen (video artist), Hannes Mlenek (painter), Fabrizio Plessi (installation artist), Michaela Grill (video artist), Sabine Scholl (writer), Bernd R. Bienert (choreographer), Liz Lea (dancer), Martin Kaar (light artist), Nika Radic (sculpturer), Hermann Nitsch (painter, actionist), Rainer Gottemeier (land artist), Stefan Krüskemper (architectural artist), Beat Zoderer (installation artist), Jürgen Messensee (painter), Johanes Zechner (artist), Sabina Holzer (dancer), Jack Hauser (ex-filmmaker), Jonathan Meese (artist), Guido Kucsko (artist), Xenia Hausner (artist), Hannes Mlenek (painter), Georg Riha (filmmaker), Andrea Nagl (choreographer), Jacqueline Kornmüller (director), Helmut Wimmer (photographer), Erwin Uhrmann (writer), Hervé Bacquet (artist)

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Updated: 25 Mar 2024