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Jerry Gerber: Number Eleven: The Path (Tokafi Music Magazine)

Classical tradition within the context of an all-synth score: Gerber is the "real thing".

The modern composer has a love/hate relationship with orchestral samples. The cost of recording an orchestra varies wildly depending on what musicians are involved, but often falls between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars. There’s the logistical nightmare of coordinating 50+ people for rehearsals and the cost of recording, mixing, and producing such a massive ensemble, not to mention finding and paying for an affordable space (with good sound). The alternative, and mode of operation for budding film scorers, commercial maestros, and composers writing for themselves in the comfort of their piano-less living rooms, is to use digital sound libraries—packages of sampled strings, horns, guitars, orchestral percussion (you name it) that run anywhere from $300 to $20,000. Basically, some engineer painstakingly records notes by, say, each of the lead players of Vienna Symphony, then digitally manipulates those notes to cover the range of a keyboard. A composer installs the resulting DVD package into a program like Logic or Pro Tools, adds a dash of reverb, triggers the samples with a MIDI keyboard, and lo and behold, you’re hearing the sounds of a symphony.

Of course, the practice arguably implies that conservatory-trained musicians are given less paid work, and given the option (and money), most composers would still opt for live musicians in lieu of samples. As a result, use of samples in so-called “serious” art music often induces eyebrow-raising from the Carnegie Hall-going listener and the older (living) generation of composers. It is, however, the 21st Century and given that samples libraries probably won’t go away, the modern “classical” composer is faced with balancing these issues of ethics, convenience, and money while writing high brow orchestral music in the digital age. For his most recent album, Number Eleven: The Path, composer Jerry Gerber has constructed an entire orchestral album using sample libraries. The eleventh in a series of orchestral albums using entirely sampled instruments, it brings together elements of Classical era-writing, late Romantic orchestral music and American minimalism with a cinematic sensibility. The record not only demonstrates the powerful and masterful application of sampled instruments, but, at least as importantly, showcases Gerber’s versatile and emotive writing.

Number Eleven: The Path is comprised of four works. The album opens with “Music For Twelve Instruments,” a contrapuntal feast of quasi-baroque interplay imbued with a faint touch of modern electronic music. “Small Matters” is a spiraling and restless duet for oboe and piano. A look at the printed score (which Gerber provides on his website) shows countless time signature and tempo changes guiding blurry sixteenth note figures and clashing dissonances. The appropriately titled “The Galaxies” is a celestial choral work. The human voice is one of the more difficult sounds to convincingly simulate electronically, but while listening to the vibrato-heavy vocal soloists sound over a floating bed of harmonies and organ-like string chords, it’s easy to forget that this isn’t a live choir in a 16th Century cathedral.

The album’s centerpiece is Gerber’s Symphony #7, an ambitious four movement work that at time recalls John Adams, Aaron Copeland, and John Williams (sometimes all at the same time). Here, Gerber sometimes uses the samples for incredibly realistic mock-ups, and sometimes uses the timbres to create minimalist, beat-heavy electronic backdrops for swelling waves of strings. The second movement offers powerful contrasts of spiraling violin lines and buzzing antiphonal electronic sounds. The fourth movement is particularly powerful, alternating carnival-like tangles of orchestra and electronics with majestic film-score horn figures and propulsive timpani.

Number Eleven: The Path makes for a powerful and varied listen. Jerry Gerber is certainly the “real thing.” The meticulously notated scores, emotive writing, and fluency in different eras of orchestral composition make for a sound firmly rooted in the classical tradition all within the context of an all-synth score - thereby illustrating a composer with serious chops as interested in looking backward as pushing forward.

Tobias Fischer

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