Karlheinz Essl

da braccio

interactive realtime composition for strings and computer


CD stryngebite (Brian Marley)
in: The Wire, Issue 252, February 2005, page 61

There are certain instrumental configurations, such as violin and piano, in which a degree of incompatibility presents an obstacle to the success of the music. Often, composers have little option but to use this incompatibility as a primary source of material. Acoustic instruments and electronics/tape are, if anything, even less compatible than piano and violin, and the compositions in which they feature tend to show their soundworlds operating in consort rather than harmoniously. But although the range of technology on which composers can draw has grown enormously during the last half century (since, roughly, Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Kontakte", for percussion, piano and tape, one of the first pieces of its kind and still one of the most successful), the nature of the conflict between electronics and acoustic instruments is essentially the same as it ever was.

Perhaps wisely, Achim Bornhoeft sidesteps the issue. His "virtual string" presents what the title suggests: a computer-generated simulation of a string. Sometimes the string sounds as though it must be as thick as a hawser cable and its sound box the size of a warehouse, and this aspect of the composition is interesting though far from novel.

The other five compositions feature a solo bowed stringed instrument with tape and/or live electronics. All of them are conceptually less interesting than the Bornhoeft piece, though most are compositionally just as strong. On Karlheinz Essl's da braccio, Garth Knox (of The Arditti Quartet) contributes a range of viola textures that Essl modifies on the hoof. Knox also contributes to the two very different versions of Gerhard E Winkler's fascinating "Hybrid II ('Networks')" for real-time score and interactive live electronics, in which computer generated algorithms dictate how the composition should proceed.

The two remaining pieces feature Frank Stadler and electronically modified natural sounds. At their least modified, these sounds stick out like a sore thumb, as happens during the early moments of Arteom Denissov's "Himmlischer Kreis". They're put to much more convincing use in Michael Edwards's "Slippery When Wet", whose abruptly changing collage structure more readily accommodates these blurts of disjunctive sound. Edwards is also the producer of "Stryngebite", and he writes in his liner note that utilising taped elements in composition is still an issue in contemporary Western classical music, as is improvisation (by, in this case, Knox and Essl). Who would have thought that innovation and contemporary classical would prove to be less compatible that electronics/tape and acoustic instruments?

Der Atem eines Virtuosen (Peter Jarolin)
Konzerthaus: Neues von Knox, Essl, Grisey
in: KURIER, Wien 8.11.2000

(...) Im "Neuen Saal" des Konzerthauses sorgte Garth Knox für einen der absoluten Höhepunkte im Rahmen des Festivals WIEN MODERN. (...) Eine "Hörhilfe", die bei Karlheinz Essls da braccio weniger nötig war. In sehr klaren, strengen Formen provoziert Essl einen Dialog zwischen der Viola d'amore und den am Computer gefertigten Klangmustern. (...)

Touch me! (Stefan Ender)
Diverse Uraufführungen beim Festival "Wien Modern"
in: DER STANDARD, Wien 11./12.11.2000

(...) Zu guter Letzt erklärte Karlheinz Essl noch, wie bei seinem da braccio für Viola d'amore, Live-Elektronik und Computer Geschichte und Sprachsujets der Streichinstrumente verarbeitet werden sollten. Knox' Viola d'amore klang daraufhin meist sehr "spacig" (wenn er nicht gerade kratzte, klopfte oder scharrte), Essl ge[ne]rierte am Laptop messerscharfe Nadelklänge und erinnerte in den besten Passagen an jenen Sound, der zu hören war, als der von Schwarzenegger kaputtgeschossene Terminator 2 immer wieder zu einer physischen Einheit zusammenfloss. (...)

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Updated: 3 Jan 2016