Karlheinz Essl

Concerto for ensemble and live-electronics
Part of the work-in-progress fLOW (1998/99)

With support from the Austrian Cultural Institute, New York

Chicago Cultural Center
Claudia Cassidy Theater
Chicago, 78 E. Washington

Sun, 18 Apr 1999, 10:00 PM (EDT)

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fLOW is a site-specific project which is carried out in numerous steps and takes place in various location with changing musicians from different fields like New Music, experimental jazz, free improvisation and New Electronic Music.

Jeremy Ruthrauff, Steven Butters, Karlheinz Essl, Harrison Bankhead

fLOCK - the version of fLOW which was played at the "Chicago Cultural Center" on 18 Apr 1999 - was controlled by a precisely worked out time-table (overall duration: 45 minutes) which the musicians followed by using stopwatches. The performers were musicians of the Chicago-based "Ensemble Noamnesia", two well-know jazz musicians from the Chicago AACM and the composer Karlheinz Essl himself on his computer-based electronic music instrument m@ze°2.


  Mawata Bowden clarinet
  Jeremy Ruthrauff alto saxophone
  Harrison Bankhead double bass
  Steve Butters percussion
  Karlheinz Essl computer & live-electronics (m@ze°2)


New Millenium: New Music: Karlheinz Essl

On 18 April 1999, the Chicago Cultural Center presented two works by Austrian composer Karlheinz Essl as part of its New Millenium: New Music series. Both compositions provided frameworks for improvisation by members of two Chicago groups, Ensemble Noamnesia, and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).
      (...) Chicago critics often note that the line here between classical and jazz avant-garde is awfully thin, especially when it comes to improvisation. The afternoon's performance of fLOCK (1999) provided evidence. Joining members of the classically rooted Ensemble Noamnesia were clarinetist Mwata Bowden and bassist Harrison Bankhead of the AACM, a venerable collective that has been in the vanguard of jazz since the 1960s. fLOCK began with the intermittent screeches from a cymbal bowed by Mr. Butters; Mr. Bowden answered on clarinet with a tone-perfect imitation. The musicians continued to blend seamlessly, though the orientation of each could still be told. Mr. Bowden and Mr. Bankhead were a little more inclined than the others to make arcing phrases of their improvisation, and a little less inclined to abandon pitched sounds for noise.
      fLOCK was simpler technically than the first work [Champ d'Action]. The players improvised according to time lines recorded on good old-fashioned paper. Mr. Essl provided the technological interest by sitting in on laptop computer. Using another MAX-based program, he played sampled sounds, altering them in real time. Unfortunately, audio directly from the laptop coupled with the Cultural Center's less-than-ideal sound system worked against the performance. The samples lacked crispness, and the entire ensemble suffered from the steady electric hum and white noise. Neither did some of Mr. Essl's environmental sounds blend particularly well with the instruments. To put it in big words, there was a paradigmatic disjunction, a piano-playing-in-the woods effect that might work for Jean-Luc Godard films, but in music usually sounds unsophisticated. Electronic / instrumental mixes seem to work best when the electronic sounds have an instrumental character, or provide a sufficiently abstract background, or something between. When environmental sounds are used, instrumentalists might be better off abandoning any pretense of musicality and just making noise. All of the above did happen now and then at this performance, and then the music fared better.

(John Richey)
in: Computer Music Journal, spring 2000 (MIT-Press)

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Updated: 26 Feb 2002