Music Reviews

Artist: Harley Gaber
Title: In Memoriam 2010
Format: CD
Label: innova Recordings (@)
Distributor: Naxos of America, Inc
Rated: *****
Many of you may not be familiar with American minimalist composer, visual artist, photographer and film maker Harley Gaber (1943-2011), and until receiving this, his final release (as far as I know), neither was I, although his name has surfaced here and there on the Chain D.L.K. website from time to time. Gaber studied music with Horace Reisberg, Darius Milhaud, Lejaren Hiller, Aldo Clementi, Franco Evangelisti, Giacinto Scelsi, Giulio Rotoli, William Sydeman, and Kenneth Gaburo. Gaber's handful of releases goes back as far as 1972, but his body of work seems to be larger than that. He quit composing in 1978 to devote himself to tennis, but did manage to return to music for 3 final albums beginning in 2009. Harley Gaber committed suicide on June 16, 2011 in Gallup, New Mexico after putting his affairs in order and paying for his website domain name 10 years into the future. (Odd, in my opinion, for someone not planning to be around very long.) The reasons for his suicide are complicated, but could be attributed to a deteriorating physical and mental condition. This work, 'In Memoriam 2010' was commissioned by Dan J. Epstein of for his mother Nancy Epstein (1920-2010), the widow of Chicago real estate financier Julius Epstein who passed away in 1968. Nancy and Julius started the Stephen David Epstein Foundation, which provided financing to hundreds of underprivileged children in the fine arts, hence the connection with music and this commissioned work.

The raison d'etre for this work is not as important though as the work itself, or as Gaber's swan song to the world. The track titles of this nearly 64 minute piece in six parts have an apocalyptic overtone, while the sound of the album is rather a dichotomy; a blend of the tranquil yet distressing, perhaps a metaphoric death, and surrender to the void. Not having any basis of comparison to Gaber's other works, I can only evaluate 'In Memoriam 2010' on its own. Frankly, when I first listened to the CD (with no knowledge whatsoever of its background or intent) I found it'¦difficult, and somewhat distressing, especially in the beginning. The track that opens the work- 'cataclysm and threnody' is akin to being jettisoned into space via Star Trek transporter, destination unknown. Actually, it's more like being stuck in the transporter with no hope of ever rematerializing. The sustained higher frequency ringing tones make for uneasy listing to say the least, and that this track goes on for 16 minutes is indeed and exercise in fortitude. There is a mix of other modulated noise, cosmic winds perhaps, giving the impression of motion through some kind of tunnel or wormhole. Imagine an interstellar subway, the express train. It's a rough ride on a smooth vehicle, an unlike anything I've ever heard before. The piece glides into 'threnody and prayer' with only subtle variations and a lessening of the peripheral noise elements. Fortunately, the piece turns down the dynamics but the high frequency drone is still the major element.

The tone and timber shifts dramatically in 'ground of the great sympathy:aftermath' with low frequency drone and the higher whistling drones set in the background. There is eeriness to this track as other subtle sonic elements come into play that are very dark ambient-ish- alien angelic voices, echoed noise, etc. For me, there is where things started getting really interesting. Categorizing it as 'cosmic dark ambient' would not be off the mark. The piece transits seamlessly into 'in-formation,' where there seems to be an uneasy yet peaceful atmosphere. The tonalities Gaber employs here are tenuous and ethereal, and you'd barely know they're there without turning up the volume, but I wouldn't recommend it. While 'coalescing' may seem like a hardly noticeable transition again, there are sonic differences in this section that could be indicative of discovering life'¦out there'¦just not the kind of life you're familiar with. There is this sound I can only describe as 'cosmic crickets' that accompanies much of the track which feels like space travel. Perhaps it's inner space though; it's all a matter of perspective. Finally 'with completion' seems to give birth to new lifeforms taking shape and swirling in the void, growing and expanding.

I suppose the album could be considered a metaphor for death transiting into new life, and in that regard it succeeds. Yet, as with concepts of life and death it is oblique and unfathomable, at least on this mortal coil. There is a chance that Harley Garber may have been unknowingly channeling the God-force in this work, and perhaps an equal chance that the artist knew exactly what he was doing, opting out after finishing this because in this space and time and life, there was nothing more that could be said or done that could have gone beyond what he envisioned. In any case, this is a deep and profound listening experience that may be best digested in time after multiple listenings.

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