Karlheinz Essl - Where's the Rainbow?

by Karlheinz Essl

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Binaural Recording - Listen With Headphones!!!

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Karlheinz Essl (* 1960) is an Austrian composer, performer, sound artist, improviser, and composition teacher.

Essl was born in Vienna. His studies at the University of Music in Vienna included composition (under Friedrich Cerha), electro-acoustic music (under Dieter Kaufmann) and double bass. At the University of Vienna he studied musicology (1989 doctoral thesis on "Das Synthese-Denken bei Anton Webern""). Between 1990-1994 he was composer-in-residence at the Darmstädter Ferienkurse für Neue Musik, while in 1992-93 he worked on a commission at IRCAM in Paris. From 1992 to 2016, he was the music curator of the Essl Museum in Klosterneuburg/Vienna. Between 1995–2006 he taught Algorithmic composition at the Studio for Advanced Music & Media Technology at the Bruckner University in Linz, Austria. As of 2007, Essl is professor of composition for electro-acoustic and experimental music at the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna.

Karlheinz Essl's work with computers (with emphasis on algorithmic composition and generative music) and a prolonged occupation with the poetics of serial music have been a formative influence on his compositional thinking. Besides writing instrumental music, Karlheinz Essl also works in the field of electronic music, interactive realtime compositions and sound installations. Since the early 1990s, he has developed various software environments for realtime composition which he uses himself for his own live performances and also in collaboration with artists from other fields (choreographers, dancers, visual artists and poets).

In 1998, Essl started to develop a computer-based electronic instrument called m@ze°2 which he uses as an improviser in live performances. Since 2008, he is working on a series of compositions for various solo instruments and live electronics named Sequitur. Recently he has written several solo and ensemble pieces for electric guitar and composed a variety of pieces for toy piano.

Since the 1990s, Karlheinz Essl carried out a number of projects for the Internet and became increasingly involved with improvisation. In 1997, Karlheinz Essl 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. 2008–2009 he was composer-in-residence of the Belgium ensemble Champ d'Action.

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Between the years 1620 and 1636, Peter Paul Rubens created, without the prompting of any commission, his Landscape with Philemon and Baucis. He kept working on this image throughout his life. The painting tells the story of Philemon and Baucis as Ovid presented it in his Metamorphoses. In Ovid’s narrative, an old married couple receives a surprise visit from the gods Jupiter and Mercury, disguised as weary travelers who cannot find a place to spend the night. The old couple does not judge these travelers or question where they are from; they simply offer them kindness and hospitality. The two gods offer the couple a gift expressing their gratitude: they spare their lives when, the next day, a great flood comes crashing over the land.

In the painting, only a small group of figures makes reference to this fable. The main theme of the piece is the unpredictability of nature with its untamed, uncontrolled power: lightning and thunder, rain and storms, a cow screaming as its life ends within a torrent, a mother desperately trying to rescue her baby. This is an apocalyptic catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. And yet, Rubens included a hopeful sign in this image: in the lower left-hand corner of the tableau, you can see a rainbow…

“Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high,” sang Judy Garland in the well-loved film The Wizard of Oz (1939), a song promising hope and a wonderful world far from the darkness and ominous threats of the Second World War.

This image has much to tell us in our contemporary lives, as our current reality includes events such as the refugee crisis, global warming, and the threat of nuclear disaster. It acts as both a warning and a sign of hope.

For the theatre project Ganymed Nature, composer Karlheinz Essl worked extensively with Rubens’ Landscape with Philemon and Baucis, creating an immersive soundscape to reflect this painting. This sound work is based on algorithmically generated soundscapes taken from weather and other natural phenomena: the forest and the wind, a stream that swells and overflows, thunder and lightning. We also hear sounds that refer to human activity: rustling steps through foliage that turn into the ringing of high heels, in which a woman walks on asphalt. And then there are signaling sounds: a firebell extends into an unending tolling that spins onward into infinity.

The poetry of the rainbow overarches everything; the promise of salvation, a glimmer of hope. To express this, Essl worked with an a-capella-choir to create chord structures which he then recorded and electronically transformed. The highlighted melodic fragments are reminiscent of the famous rainbow song yet appear in a peculiar harmonic disguise which let you sense the atmospheres of other planets.

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Zwischen 1620-1636 malte Peter Paul Rubens seine Gewitterlandschaft , die er ganz ohne Auftrag schuf und immer wieder überarbeitete. Dieses Bild erzählt die Geschichte von Philemon und Baucis, wie sie Ovid in seinen Metamorphosen überliefert hat. Ein altes Ehepaar erhält überraschend Besuch von den als Wanderer verkleideten Göttern Jupiter und Merkur, denen niemand Unterkunft gewähren wollte. Ungeachtet ihrer Herkunft werden die beiden Fremdlinge aber von den armen Alten reichlich bewirtet und liebevoll beherbergt. Als Dank dafür verschonen die Götter die beiden vor der Vernichtung, die Tags darauf als Sintflut über die Welt hereinbricht und alles Leben auslöscht.

Nur eine kleine Figurengruppe verweist auf diese Fabel. Hauptthema des Bildes ist die entfesselte Natur mit ihrer ungezähmten, nicht kontrollierbaren Macht: Blitz und Donner; Regen und Sturm; ein Sturzbach, in dem eine brüllende Kuh verendet; eine Mutter, die verzweifelt ihren Säugling zu retten versucht. Eine apokalyptische Katastrophe ungeahnten Ausmaßes. Und dennoch findet sich auch ein Zeichen des Trostes. In der linken unteren Bildecke sieht man einen Regenbogen...

„Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high” singt Judy Garland in dem berühmten Film The Wizard of Oz (1939) und beschwört darin die Hoffnung auf eine fröhliche, farbenfrohe Wunderwelt jenseits des damals dräuenden Weltkrieges.

Gerade heute, in Zeiten der Flüchtlingsströme, des Klimawandels und der nuklearen Bedrohung, hat uns dieses Bild noch so manches zu sagen. Als Warnung, aber auch als Botschaft der Hoffnung.

Für das Theaterprojekt Ganymed Nature hat sich der Komponist Karlheinz Essl intensiv mit Rubens "Gewitterlandschaft" beschäftigt und dafür eine immersive Klanglandschaft geschaffen, die derzeit die Fotoausstellung The Last Day von Helmut Wimmer im Bassanosaal des Kunsthistorischen Museums begleitet. Sie basiert auf algorithmisch generierten Klängen von Natur- und Wetterphänomenen: Wald und Wind; ein Bach, der zur Flut anschwillt; Donner und Blitz. Dazu Klänge, die auf Menschliches verweisen: raschelnde Schritte durch das Laub, die sich allmählich in High Heels verwandeln, mit denen eine Frau über den Asphalt stöckelt. Und dann noch Signale: die Sturmglocke und ein daraus abgeleitetes Klangband, das den Glockenton ins Unendliche fortspinnt.

Über allem aber schwebt die Posie des Regenbogens; die Verheißung der Erlösung, ein Hoffnungsschimmer. Dafür hat Essl mit dem a capella chor tulln zusammengearbeitet und mit ihm Akkordstrukturen aufgenommen, die elektronisch transformiert werden. Die angedeuteten Melodiefragmente erinnern zwar an den bekannten Rainbow-Song, erscheinen aber in einer eigentümlichen harmonischen Verkleidung, die Luft von anderen Planeten erahnen läßt.

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released September 1, 2018

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