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JERRY GERBER Symphony No. 10 for the Virtual Orchestra In Time There Will Be No Time Three Short Piano Works Jerry Gerber (syn). OTTAVA 19-014 (48:18)

Earth Music is a collection of classical music compositions by American composer Jerry Gerber, created through the use of synthesizers and other musical technology. Gerber is a master of using the latest electronic and digital resources to compose in the Western art music tradition. Unlike some of the forebearers of today’s electronic music (Buchla, Babbitt, et al.), Gerber’s music embraces expression, human personality, and an approach to composition that would not be unfamiliar to composers from Bach to Boulez. Good music is good music, whether scribbled on paper at a harpsichord or finessed at a Moog console.

Gerber’s 14th studio release, Earth Music was composed using MIDI technology, an interface that allows electronic instruments to communicate with each other and with computers. Gerber employs three sound libraries, five synthesizers, three software programs, and other media to channel his own unique musical vision and aesthetic. The star of this production is Gerber’s Symphony No. 10 for Virtual Orchestra. In this major work, Gerber builds each movement with thoughtful deliberation, creating a microcosm of individually diverse segments, each with its own personality. While it may lack the warm harmonics of instruments created from natural materials, performed on the wings of human breath, Gerber’s 10th has much to offer.

Gerber skillfully blends sounds that to a certain degree emulate traditional instruments, expanding their sweep far below and above the expected range. This album closes with three piano selections which illustrate this capability. The performer can create piano-like sounds that would be impossible on a modern instrument as well as chordal combinations which would require a pianist to have additional fingers and hands. Virtual instruments in the symphony seem to move in and out of character: a melody in the clarinet morphs into the sound of an organ, which is already a kind of synthesizer. And this work is not simply a compilation of tunes and chords: there is great rhythmic interest, sometimes resulting in input too varied for my brain to process all at once. But that demonstrates the limitations of my brain rather than any excess on the part of the composer.

Movement two of the symphony gives a musical nod to the 12-tone philosophy of Arnold Schoenberg, with some anxious triplets that reminded me of the music of John Adams. A brass choir, a fragment of a viola or cello solo, and other quicksilver effects sparkle through Gerber’s ever-changing palette. The third movement, titled “True Desire,” yields a shimmering choral-like section one might expect to find in an eerie Tim Burton film soundtrack. The work concludes in movement four with “Passacaglia,” a courtly dance on a ground bass, whose marching rhythm borders on menace.

But even if you can’t tell a filter from a low-frequency oscillator, and you think ADSR is a kind of attention-deficit syndrome, open-minded listeners will find something of interest to engage with and enjoy in this album. It is truly amazing what can be created with synthesizers and the technology that supports and enables them.

Linda Holt

4 stars. Imaginative symphonic creation by Jerry Gerber, a skilled composer of MIDI and synthesizer-enabled art music, with choral and piano-like bonus selections.

 

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