home | recordings | compositions | press | services | instruction | articles | studio | biography | credits | links


JERRY GERBER Nine Hymns on Spiritual Life. Virtual Concerto for Oboe and Digital Ensemble • Jerry Gerber (syn) • OTTAVA 22-016 (34:47)

I should begin this review by mentioning that I am by no means an expert on choral music. I enjoy choral music and have found that, despite my first impressions, a chorus can be quite flexible and dynamic, even while competing with the scale and magnitude of the full orchestra. Like me, I’m sure most readers first experienced choral work in religious settings. Much of choral music seems devoted to the expression of hymns or religious texts, with supportive voices and soloists holding equal sway on the expression of some teaching regarding spiritual life.

In the case of this album, From Cosmic Dust, composer Jerry Gerber utilizes a digital chorus, the sounds of voices collected into sound libraries from the East-West Choirs and the Vienna Choir, and seems to explore spirituality as found in a cosmic presence. His Nine Hymns on Spiritual Life are a mix of accompanied and unaccompanied choral pieces with lyrics from poems by Rumi and Paramahansa Yogananda, as well as original lyrics by Gerber. Only the pieces “Greed,” “When Death Does Come,” and “It’s Always Worse At Night,” include virtual accompaniment (derived from the Vienna Symphonic Library Symphonic Cube). Instead of album notes, Gerber has provided the texts of these choral pieces—which is most definitely helpful to understand the chorus. I struggled at times to hear or distinguish the words of these hymns, and I’m not entirely sure if this would be the case if these pieces were performed with live singers. Some of the crispness at the ends of words and syllables, for example, seems either a little muddled because of the layering of so many vocal sounds or blurred deliberately to create a kind of echoing effect. (I’m not sure.) But of course, this is not a live chorus, and so perhaps it should not be so compared. It is, like all of Gerber’s music for virtual and digital instruments, a collage of highly controlled sounds—music—that resemble what is both like and not like classical music. As a listener, I have to consider if I am thinking of this music only in terms of comparison to so-called “real” music or if I am actually hearing the intention and message of Gerber’s compositions.

Of Gerber’s albums that I have heard (and attempted to review), this one certainly challenged me. I felt more drawn to the choral pieces (there is something quite beautiful and strange in hearing a computer expressing organized human voices for messages regarding spirituality and the divine), and more distracted by the Virtual Concerto for Oboe and Digital Ensemble. I found the sound of the oboe very distorted. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I like when Gerber complicates the sound of the digital ensemble with sounds that are from the synthesizer or computer. Gerber is at his best when he combines heavily computerized sounds (bleeps, bloops, etc.) with the regular sounds of the orchestra. However, I just found myself missing the real roundness of an oboe, especially when the digital instrument first enters the ensemble in the first movement. (It felt very flat, and I think that may be partially due to the minor key of the piece, but also, again, an intentional sort of effect to fit with the color of the piece. It isn’t an unpleasant effect, but I think it brought me back to my dilemma as a listener and I was distracted by what I could not hear from the digital oboe.)

I will end by saying that I will always champion Gerber’s work because it is so vastly different and interesting. With the tools at his disposal, as well as the palette of colors and tones within his pieces, Gerber’s music contains the light and magic of true art.

Jacqueline Kharouf


home | recordings | compositions | press | services | instruction | articles | studio | biography | credits | links