Karlheinz Essl & Matthew Ostrowski


free improvisations for live-electronics

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CD cover by Simon Essl and Leonardo Rosado
On May 5th 2009, Austrian composer Karlheinz Essl and New York-based sound artist Matthew Ostrowski met for a free improvisation concert at ISSUE Project Room in Brooklyn, NY. Although it had been 8 years since their last performance as a duo, the show turned out to be very powerful, each performer complementing the other in ways neither had anticipated. They were so excited about the results of this almost chance encounter that they decided to make the recording available to the world.

This album is dedicated to the memory of Suzanne Fiol (1960-2009), founder of Issue Project Room.

Released on 24 Oct 2009 by XS Records [xs-68]

snd  Download or stream the tracks from archive.org...

Liner Notes by Tom Hamilton

I go to a lot of concerts. I actually try to go to fewer concerts, but it never lasts for very long. I have lots of friends playing electronic music, because I’ve also been doing it myself for 40 years. Seeing friends and hearing electronic music seem to go together, but that’s just me. So that’s what happened on May 5, 2009, when I schlepped out to Brooklyn to hear Karlheinz and Matt at Issue Project Room.

Sometimes the experience of listening to electronic music is masked to a degree by the “electronic-ness” of it all; the suspicion that we’re now being asked to suspend our musical instincts to allow for the intricacies of the media. So we forget for just a little bit that we really do like a big dose of plain old musicianship. What a relief when we finally get it.

Like in all good concerts, what I did not count on was what I actually heard. And like in all good concerts, it felt like a wholly new experience in the art form itself. And now I listen to the CD and I’m reminded again how valuable and desirable we find contrast, drama and excitement - qualities that we wish for in any other music. I listen again as if it were jazz. Surprise!

OK, I can’t help it. I will digress to one technical point: An obstacle that faces every performer of our electronic ilk is that electronic and acoustic instruments do not project their sound quality in the same way. Our ears hear the subtlest changes radiating from a clarinet in almost any space. Not so with the electronic sources in that same room. Loudspeakers are usually the culprits – they just don’t deliver the punch the way the clarinet does, and microphones just seem to play dumb when they hear anything from a speaker. But in the present recording, I can hear tremendous contrast in dynamic range and a great deal of detail in the sound. This is not because the loudspeakers or microphones were something exotic (they weren’t, sorry). Karlheinz and Matt have made their original computer-based instruments with a great deal of attention to those important sonic qualities and how that bears on the resulting music. High resolution plus large dynamic range plus expressive controls equal a terrific sound. And a little recording common sense never hurts. We’re reminded of the room, reminded that it was a live event, but never limited by it.

The key to this isn’t that it’s electronic, computerized, sampled, or really tied to any particular technology, though ironically each of these artists are well-known for having innovated new techniques that help bring the resulting music across. The importance of their work lies in their abilities to improvise with endless shadings ranging between simplicity and complexity, and to channel the overriding musicality to fuel the performance.

And like a really good wine that we’re experiencing for the first time, we just know that it’s a good drink. Words don’t fail us; we just don’t need them any more.

Tom Hamilton
New York, October 2009

Matthew Ostrowski

  Matthew Ostrowski live

Matthew Ostrowski live
Born in New York City, Matthew Ostrowski has been active since the early 1980s, working in improvised music, music theater, electroacoustic composition, and audio installations. An unreconstructed formalist with a continuing interest in density of microevents and rapid change, he has wasted much of the last ten years developing interfaces for real-time musical performance, attempting to emulate the multidimensionality and flexiblity of acoustic instruments in the electronic domain.

He has performed with a boatload of international improvisors, and is currently most active as one half of KRK, with contrabassist George Cremaschi, whose CD ‘Acouasm’ has recently been released on Achuliean Handaxe Records; and as one third of the a/v trio Fair Use, specializing in sped-up interpretations of film classics. Ostrowski’s work has been seen or performed on four continents, including the Wien Modern Festival, the Kraków Audio Art Festival, Sonic Acts in Amsterdam, PS 1 and The Kitchen, the Melbourne Festival, and Unyazi, the first festival of electronic music on the African continent. He received the NYFA Fellowship for Computer Arts in 2001, a Radio and Sound Art Fellowship from the Media Alliance in 2000, and was a nominee for the 2006 Alpert Award in the Arts.

Karlheinz Essl

  Karlheinz Essl live

Karlheinz Essl live
Born 1960 in Vienna. Austrian composer, improviser and performer. He studied composition with Friedrich Cerha and musicology in Vienna (doctorate 1989 with a thesis on Anton Webern). As a double bassist, he played in chamber and jazz ensembles. Besides writing experimental music and composing electronic music, he performs on his own electronic instrument m@ze°2, develops software environments for computer-aided composition and creates generative sound and video environments – often in collaboration with artists from other fields. Essl erved as composer-in-residence at the Darmstadt Summer Courses (1990-94) and completed a commission for IRCAM. In 1997, he was presented at the Salzburg Festival with portrait concerts and sound installations. Since 1994, Karlheinz Essl curates experimental music concerts and sound installations at the Essl museum in Klosterneuburg. Between 1995-2006 he was teaching „Algorithmic Composition” at the Anton Bruckner University in Linz. Since 2007 he is professor of composition for electro-acoustic and experimental music at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna.

Beyond his work as a composer of experimental music, Karlheinz Essl has developed his own electronic instrument called m@ze°2, which is based on a computer program written in Max/MSP. Since 1998 he has been using his realtime composition environment predominantly for free improvised music. He has performed with the crème de la crème of avantgarde music. With his instrument Essl can interact spontaneously to any kind of sound environment or music utilizing a variety of external controllers and a video camera in order to shape the musical output.




1 Karlheinz Essl & Matt Ostrowski: Duo #1 16:15
2 Karlheinz Essl & Matt Ostrowski: Duo #2 6:36
3 Karlheinz Essl: non Sequitur for kalimba and live-electronics 6:36
4 Karlheinz Essl & Matt Ostrowski: Duo #3 11:43
5 Karlheinz Essl & Matt Ostrowski: Duo #4 10:02


Many thanks to Zach Layton from ISSUE Project Room for hosting this venue and for making the recording, and to the the people of net label XS Records for releasing this album on the Internet.

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Updated: 1 Feb 2021