Rolf Gehlhaar

Rolf R. Gehlhaar


December 30, 1943 – July 7, 2019

Third son of Heinz F. Gehlhaar, test pilot, aeronautical engineer and rocket scientist, and Gisela M. Bischoff, fine arts teacher, was born on December 30, 1943 in Breslau (Silesia, Germany). In 1953 his family emigrated to the USA, his father having been recruited by the US Government.

He grew up in New Mexico and California, attending schools in Alamogordo and Santa Barbara. In 1961 he attended Yale University, studying science, philosophy and music, and in 1965 began graduate studies in music at the University of California, Berkeley.

In 1967, having studied composition with Karlheinz Stockhausen who was that year a visiting Professor at the University of California, Davis, he was invited by him to become his private student and personal assistant in Cologne, Germany. Gehlhaar worked closely with Stockhausen over the next 4 years, participating actively in the development and elaboration of many of his important ideas and projects of that time.

During these years he was able to study and discuss in detail with Stockhausen many of his previous work, as he had access to all his sketches and manuscripts, He also had the opportunity to direct rehearsals of a number of his important works, such as Kontakte, Mikrophonie, Prozession, Kurzwellen, Hymnen, Spiral and Stimmung.

Furthermore, Gehlhaar also became the sixth member of the Stockhausen Ensemble a group of outstanding musicians who were highly influential on the European contemporary musical scene of the time, especially in the field of the live-electronics. Among them were, of course, Stockhausen, Aloys Kontarsky, Harald Boje, Alfred Ahlings and Johannes Fritsch.

This ensemble toured Europe extensively and made numerous recordings for many different companies. In 1970 an enlarged version of this ensemble, directed by Gehlhaar, resided at the German Pavilion at EXPO ’70 in OSAKA for six months, presenting a series of daily concerts of Stockhausen’s instrumental and live electronic music.

Upon his return to Cologne from Japan, Gehlhaar began to concentrate on composition and the performance of his own works. Together with his colleagues Johannes Fritsch and David Johnson, he founded the Feedback Studio, the Feedback Ensemble, specialising in the performance of the live electronic music of its members, and the Feedback Studio Verlag, Germany’s first composer’s publishing company.

The Feedback Studio, a small private electronic music studio and development workshop specialising in live electronic music for performance, pioneered cybernetic musical installations and interactive musical environments. The Ensemble, touring extensively in Europe, concentrated on the performance of the instrumental and live electronic music of its members and their colleagues.

During this time Gehlhaar also began to be regularly commissioned by a large variety of organisations to compose works for solo instruments, smaller ensembles and orchestra. In 1973, he was awarded the young composer’s music prize by the state of Northrhein-Westfalia. Having acquired access in 1974 to a computer belonging to a friend who was an audio electronics engineer, Gehlhaar began to carry out research in the area of digital sound synthesis, automation of musical processes and computer-aided composition.

This research work lead him to compose, for example, the 4-channel work for tape, 5 German Dances in the Electronic Studio of the WDR, Cologne. In this work, thanks to the studio’s newly acquired analogue synthesiser and digital sequencer, he was able for the first time to leave a trace, in a musical context, of some of the ideas and techniques he was developing as control processes on the computer. For example, he developed the rather involved and complex real-time techniques for synthesising all the sounds of a quadraphonic piece to behave as if they were being emitted from objects in motion, with varying speeds, directions and orbits, sounding absolutely realistic and behaving according to the laws of physical acoustics. The physics of sound became a structural part of the musical process.

This interest has always remained central to his musical invention, as is further evidenced by a highly original research project and resulting in the interactive work, realised in 1981 at IRCAM Step by Step… music for ears in motion the wrold’s first acoustic analogue of a hologram, in which the position and movement of the listener’s ears determines his/her ‘perspective’ on a complex “three-dimensional” sound.

As a result of numerous research and development projects in the field of computer-aided composition during 1976 – 1983, he began to concentrate on the development of ideas towards a special composition; it would be resident in a computer program, in the form algorithms, but ‘performed’ by people – non-musicians – moving around an empty space. These ideas led eventually in 1984 to the development of SOUND=SPACE the world’s first truly creative interactive musical environment, and a commission in 1985 from La Villette, the new French national museum of science, for the permanent installation of a SOUND=SPACE in the museum.

During one of the early installations of SOUND=SPACE – at the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon – it became obvious to him that it was an ideal, empowering creative resource for the disabled. This led him to work toward the development of new, more easily adaptable software and towards making the environment available to special needs groups. The first installation with the new software took place as a part of the Almeida Festival in London in 1989 in a series of workshops for 30 different special needs groups, mostly children.

This series of workshops served as a benchmark for further applications in the area of special needs, leading ultimately to the creation of two permanent SOUND=SPACE resources centres, one in London, at Musicworks, and the other in Edinburgh, at the Thistle Foundation, operated under the auspices of ARTLINK.

SOUND=SPACE has become the major focus of Gehlhaar’s compositional and performance activities, being employed not only as a creative musical resource for dancers, musicians, actors, etc., but also as an evolving technical control system for comprehensive, immersive interactive environments involving projected video clips and images.

Some important dates & activities

1970: performer and director of the 6-month long programme of live-electronic music in the German Pavilion at EXPO ’70; co-founder of the Feedback Studio and the Feedback Studio Verlag, the first German composer’s publishing company

1973: awarded a music prize by the state of Northrhein-Westfalia, Germany

1974: beginning of research and development work in the area of computer aided composition and digital sound synthesis

1975: production of the 4-channel electronic work 5 German Dances in the Electronic Studio of the WDR in Cologne

1976: married the writer Nouritza Matossian and moved to London; director of the composition seminar at the Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music; founder and director of the electronic music studio at Dartington College

1977: composer-in-residence at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music

1978: director of the composition seminar at the Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music

1979: research fellowship at IRCAM, Paris: studies towards the creation of an acoustic analogue to a hologram

1980: production of the 4-channel electronic work Sub Rosa at the Centre Europeen pour la Recherche Musicale, Metz

1981: research fellowship and commission at IRCAM; production and 12 performances of the first work employing real-time digitally generated ‘three-dimensional’ sounds: Step by Step …music for ears in motion

1982: bursary from the Arts Council of Great Britain for research in the field of computer-aided composition; birth of first son, Hagop Fritz Matossian-Gehlhaar

1983: research fellowship at the Experimental Studio of the Heinrich-Strobel-Stiftung in Freiburg, Germany; birth of second son, Vahakn Wolfram Matossian-Gehlhaar

1984: beginning of developmental work for SOUND=SPACE, a computer controlled interactive musical environment; commissioned by the new National Museum for Science and Technology La Villette in Paris for a SOUND=SPACE for permanent installation

1985: first public installations of SOUND=SPACE in the Centre Pompidou Paris (Les Immateriaux), and in Donaueschingen, Germany (Donaueschinger Musiktage)

1986: research fellowship at the Experimental Studio of the Heinrich-Strobel-Stiftung in Freiburg, Germany

1986-87: numerous installations of SOUND=SPACE throughout Europe; numerous performances of a ballet in a SOUND=SPACE – Copernic Opera – a collaboration with the French choreographer Kilina Cremona

1988: bursary from the Arts Council of Great Britain for research in the field of computer-aided composition; first systematic application of SOUND=SPACE as a creative resource for special needs groups; technical director and sound designer for the Sydney Dance Company’s 26 performances of Xenakis’ Kraanerg at the Sydney Opera House and co-producer of the CD recording conducted by Roger Woodward

1989: temporary installation of SOUND=SPACE in Hiroshima; founding of the Woodward-Gehlhaar Ensemble with performances of Diagonal Flying for piano and the SOUND=SPACE System

1990: technical director of the First Sydney Spring Festival of New Music; numerous installations and workshops with SOUND=SPACE in Sydney

1991: research and development fellowship from the Gaudeamus Foundation for the design of new software for SOUND=SPACE at the CEM Studio, Arnhem

1992: research fellowship at the Experimental Studio of the Heinrich-Strobel-Stiftung in Freiburg, Germany

1993-94: numerous installations of SOUND=SPACE throughout Europe, including performances of compositions involving traditional instruments; several series of SOUND=SPACE workshops for special needs groups in the UK and Europe

1995: research fellowship at the Experimental Studio of the Heinrich-Strobel-Stiftung in Freiburg, Germany; project coordinator, music technology teacher and director of the SOUND=SPACE Centre at Musicworks, a community music resources centre in South London

1996: opening of a permanent SOUND=SPACE Centre at the Thistle Foundation in Edinburgh under the auspices of ARTLINK

1997: composer-in-residence at the Sydney Spring Academy of the University of Sydney; work with Landing Sites, a dance company, using the SOUND=SPACE system to generate an interactive multi-media environment; co-director of the Young Composer’s Summer Course at Reading University

1998: Research Fellow in the Music Department of The University of New England, NSW; beginning of collaborations with Greyworld in the field of audience-controlled immersive sound and image environments; co-director of the Young Composer’s Summer Course at Reading University

1999: joined, as technical director, the artist groups Greyworld and co-lab, both of which specialise in the design, development and production of interactive, time-based arts installations

2000: numerous commissions for interactive multi-media installations throughout Europe: Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield, UK; Hayward Gallery, London; Kammgarn Kulturzentrum, Kaiserslautern, Germany; European Patent Office, Munich; Dorset County Hospital, Dorchester; Memorial in Tyssedal, Norway; The Science Museum, London, The Guinness Storehouse, Dublin; start of collaboration with Max Eastley on SOUND DRAWINGS

2001: guest lecturer in the Department of Communication and Arts at the Universidade de Aveiro, Portugal; Doctoral advisor in the Music Department at Reading University; designer of interactives for BBC Television; visiting lecturer at the Coventry School of Art & Design, Coventry University

2002: keynote speaker and guest artist at the Musicological Society of Australia’s Annual conference in Newcastle, NSW; appointed Senior Lecturer at the Coventry School of Art & Design, Coventry University; visiting lecturer in the Department of Communication and Arts at the Universidade de Aveiro, Portugal;

2003: appointed Postgraduate Course Tutor in Design & Digital Media at the Coventry School of Art & Design, Coventry University; SOUND DRAWINGS exhibitions in Birmingham (Custard Factory) and London (The Luminaries Gallery); guest lecturer and artist for several installations in the Department of Communication and Arts at the Universidade de Aveiro, Portugal; performances with SOUND=SPACE and dancers at Coventry School of Art & Design

2004: installations in London (N1 Centre, Angel) and Germany (Hamburg), guest lecturer and artist for several installations in the Department of Communication and Arts at the Universidade de Aveiro, Portugal; development of a wearable control system for MAX/jitter programs used in the context of a collaborative composition CYBERSONG, first performed at the Universidade de Aveiro, Portugal