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CD Feature/ Jerry Gerber: "Waves"

img  Tobias

Later in this review, I will explain why I believe that, on a personal level, this is Jerry Gerber's most important album. It will then become apparent why, regardless of the fact that neither online nor print media currently seem prepared to write about or comment on it, it may herald a new phase in his oeuvre and be regarded as a sort of milestone in general. Let's begin, however, with the simple statement that any new Jerry Gerber record is a triumph in its own private way. Originally from Los Angeles, Gerber now lives and records in San Francisco, working on his vision of writing and performing symphonic scores on his computer without critical encouragement or obvious prospects of impending financial compensation and widespread public recognition. Entire nights are spent „grabbing notes in the staff view and placing them, one at a time, in a mousy little way, onto my computer screen“. Symbols coallesce into structures, structures are refined to render complex and sonically alluring entities. Thus he has released six symphonies and a handful of chambermusical works.

What unites him with that other great pioneer of the virtual orchestra, Paul Henry Smith, is his refusal to regard technology as his aim. Quite on the contrary, he has been sceptical about this new age of information, in which the most trivial of data specks appear to crowd out reasoned voices and loud hollers suppress intellectually stimulating discourse. Gerber never just feeds computers, Synthesizers and Samplers with streams of raw data, presses „play“ and then lets the machines do the creative calculating. Rather, the process of extracting meaning from electronic devices is all about defining your goals, choosing your means, taking decisions accordingly and then continually gauging practical progress with the musical ideas in your head. In Gerber's case, another aspect is of equally seminal importance. By equipping himself with the tools of creating orchestral music from his desktop, he is liberating himself from the traditional restrictions imposed upon many of his colleagues: The monetary means to make a recording or live performance happen and the associated problems of practising a piece often enough to get it right.

Those who have followed his oeuvre over the past decade will find plenty of recognisable elements from previous works on „Waves“. Again, Gerber is exploring the combination of familiar acoustic sounds and minutely programmed timbres. Again, he is blending fluent 21st century ensemble scores with rhythmical sequencing akin to the famous Berlin school of electronics of the mid-70s and early 80s and elements from contemporary club culture – an approach which already turned his sixth symphony („Time Shadows“) from 2007 into a labyrinthine wonderworld of post-techno bleeps and lush string textures. The fact that most of the pieces here are comparatively concise may be an exception in his catalogue with regards to his usually more epically scaled output. But it is certainly not the only exception, as „In Praise of Poets“ already applied his talents to the song format and proved to be a worthwhile experiment in fusing vocal purity with the colourful and dynamic palette of his sample library. The album also presents Gerber as a composer uniquely interested in fusing various strands of musical history into a unified new blend of writing, which is as informed by the harmonic developments of the 20th century Avantgarde as it is guided by an outspoken lyrical sense of melody.

„Waves“ is divided into two distinct parts: A first section comprising six pieces around the five minute mark and a slightly more expansive „Concerto for Clarinet & Virtual Ensemble“. The opening sextet of tunes leaves an immediate impression. Jazz and Ragtime can be heard shining through the arrangements, grooves and floating (mostly percussionless) rhythms create a sense of organic motion and various stylistic ideas take turns with on-a-dime virtuosity in pieces like „Windy Hop“ or, String Theory“, the latter of which warps a String Quartet through the ages within the blink of an eye. In the Concerto, Gerber then maintains quite a lot of the eclectic allusions, while focusing on creating a seamless layer within which there is no longer any distinction between the activities of the „virtual“ orchestra and the „physical“ soloist. In the second movement, which blends in various choral voices to great effect, especially, Gerber develops his music through both colour and gradual shifts in themes and motives, navigating through an opaque opening section to arrive at moments of light-filled splendour towards the end.

To anyone who has followed the path of electronic classical music from its nascent days until the present, the harmonious production of „Waves“ must seem a stunning achievement. There are passages of astounding dynamics and fluent interaction, of majestically swelling brass and joyously pulsating woodwinds. This impression of the album as a wholly natural fusion is reinforced by its energetic and contageous compostions: Opener „Rhapsody“, with its foreboding electronic textures, lively claps and excited shouts, is the kind of track that could please both those in search of demanding „art music“ and emotionally charged entertainment. The same goes for aforementioned „Windy Hop“, a piece which would have audiences jumping up and dancing on top of their seats in concert houses – if it were ever to be performed there.

All of this is good news. But what's even better is that talking about the fact that „Waves“ was conceptualised and fully realised on a computer is, in fact, the least interesting thing about it. While pioneers like Tomita and Wendy Carlos were forever bound to discussing the technology behind their artistry, Gerber has opened the door to a future where the electronic ensemble is as natural and widely accepted as a Rock band. The potential for upcoming generations of composers is tremendous – at least, in terms of having contemporary orchestral works performed and made available to the public. It is not as though previous releases by Gerber were any less virtuoso. But embedding this virtuosity in irresistibly catchy tracks has taken his ambitions to a new dimension. Those lonely studio nights were certainly not for nothing.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Jerry Gerber

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