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J. GERBER Symphony No. 9 for the Virtual Orchestra. More than Matter. Lucid: Dream for. Song to the Universe. Raga Jerry Gerber (electronics) OTTAVA 15-013 (51:51)


This is probably my favorite Jerry Gerber album. Of the Gerber albums that I have listened to and reviewed, I think this one offers the clearest evidence yet for why Gerber deserves the title of the composer for virtual orchestra. Virtual Harmonics (his 13th album, released in 2015) includes the full range of Gerber’s compositional styles and motifs: a four-part symphony for virtual orchestra and synthesizer, or computerized sounds; chamber music for virtual instrument groups along with synthesizer; a prose poem performed by the author and set to music; and sweeping thematic pieces built upon circular structures and repeating patterns.


Symphony No. 9 for the Virtual Orchestra is the most exuberant and colorful iteration of his musical expression. Here, Gerber not only creates a beautiful and colorful patterning of synthesizer sounds and the sounds of instruments from the digital library, but he has also infused recorded human voices as yet another other worldly sound to explore. In a way, the first movement could be listened to as an experimental collaging of various effects and sounds. This movement seems to be driven without much of a through-line or a recurrent theme; but rather, the piece is linked by a series of images that share a similar rhythmic progression. Here and throughout the symphony, Gerber relies on percussion instruments to scaffold his momentum and structure. The second movement begins with synthesizer sounds that are quickly complicated by the addition of string, horn, and woodwind sounds. But in the third movement Gerber offers something remarkable—an example of how he collages digital sounds to create something entirely new. I love this movement. It is a beautiful realization of voice and orchestration. Gerber interweaves male and female, tenor and soprano, operatic voices with a dramatically rising and falling melody. The voices are not forming words or singing a song, but the human sound of voice becomes, at last, a final instrument of the virtual orchestra. It is both human and recognizable yet removed from humanity because a computer expresses these voices through volume and digital recording parameters in a highly controlled, electronic setting. Gerber concludes the symphony with a fourth and final movement of fast paced strings, synthesizer sounds, horns, and percussion in a sort of perpetual motion structure. But, again, this movement is a nice culmination of the collaged work typical of Gerber’s symphonies—a combination of digitalized instruments paired with computer generated sounds.


 As in his previous albums, this album also includes several art songs. The first is More than Matter, a piece that utilizes singular notes and the pure tones of a piano as a beat. That pattern not only occurs in the opening of the piece, but recurs throughout, blending into a heartbeat sort of rhythm that is echoed and repeated and transformed by synthesizer sounds.


Another art song, Lucid: Dream for, is really the musical counterpart of a prose poem written by Candy Shue. The poem, of the same title, was originally published in Works & Days Quarterly (for their Winter 2014 issue; works-and-days.com), a publication which is now sadly no longer operational. However, the issue and the poem are still available on the archive for Works & Days Quarterly and so I’d encourage any interested listeners to do a quick internet search. The poem itself is not included in the album notes, but I believe the author Candy Shue also reads her poem in the recording of this Gerber piece (however, she is not listed as the performer on the album). In any case, the music is a direct reflection of the poem, which conjures sonic and musical themes. The poem itself seems to explore the idea that the speaker’s therapist is not merely someone who can listen to and interpret dreams. Gerber plays not only with these themes and ideas in his music but also manipulates the recording of the speaker’s voice, echoing and reverberating her words back to her. Shue writes (and speaks): “The moment hushed, an orchestra settling before the start of a symphony,” and Gerber imitates the sound of an orchestra tuning. The music swells as Shue reads: “My body was oscillating on wavelengths owls could hear, every atom vibrating in its orbit, utterly at home.” By the end of the poem, when the speaker achieves a break-through, Shue speaks: “Hallelujah” and Gerber sounds a gong.


The third art song on the album is the shortest, but it is probably my favorite. This piece, Song to the Universe, begins with a chamber music sound—strings and piano together—to which Gerber adds a kind of speckled-sounding synthesizer mix. (It’s a difficult sound to describe: a sort of rapid, pulsating sound that is later imitated by the piano and the strings.) This piece is my favorite on the album because Gerber uses the computer/synthesizer sounds sparingly and therefore in ways that surprise the listener and enhance the listening experience. There is such a restrained beauty to the piece with interesting combinations of the computer, sounding its most vibrant and electric, and the pure tones of the piano and strings. The “regular” instruments do not express very complex sounds, rhythmically or structurally, but the overall effect gives this piece an atmospheric feel, a true tonal landscape.


The album concludes with the final art song, Raga, which (I guess) sounds related to traditional Indian music (as David Reffkin explains in his album notes—I disagree, somewhat). Gerber of course includes a kaleidoscopic blend of synthesizer sounds and repeating patterns of string and percussion instruments, but the piece seems to defy any sort of folkloric origin. It is most definitely a traditional Gerber piece.


Jacqueline Kharouf


5 stars - Gerber is THE Composer for Virtual Orchestra


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