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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 6, No. 1, 2007

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Montreal Jazz Festival 2005







Piano Keyboard


by Diane Gordon


Featured artist: JERRY GERBER


If the sensibility of ears accustomed to orchestral music does not auger a predilection for electronic music, Jerry Gerber’s accessible and sonorous compositions argue the contrary. The San Francisco based composer is currently at work on his Sixth Symphony for Virtual Orchestra. The tools of his trade belie the nature of his work, including a 24 channel mixing board, synthesizers, digital samplers plus a variety of digital devices and libraries. Of course, computers are an integral part of his set up as are the notational programs with which he creates the final scores.

Although he has focused on music for virtual orchestra for nearly a decade, Jerry Gerber’s work is far-ranging. He created the music for Loom, a Lucas film computer game, and he has composed the music for Nickelodeon’s The Adventures of Gumby. As a good netizen, Gerber’s works are well documented with a web site rich in content at There, one can find generous offerings, such as complete downloadable mp3s of his work and music scores one can print out with a SibeliusScorch © score reader, available for free at

An enjoyable surf through Gerber’s posted compositions begs the question: “Why would a composer of works that would be compatible with a real-life orchestra choose electronics as a means of expression? The artist himself answers the question in his web essay: Why Do I Compose for Electronic Instruments? His reasons are many, including the logistical and political complications of getting orchestras to play new music. Then there is the question of music’s ever changing aesthetic standards in a world where the young are umbilically attached to their headsets. Which is to say, electronica is here to stay. Meanwhile, orchestras concentrate on music written in former centuries. Bach, Beethoven and Mozart will never sound dated, but culture marches on and there must always be room for new composers. It couldn’t be any other way. It is ironic that folk music, a.k.a. “people’s music,” inspired the great composers of old, yet music of the academy these days couldn’t be farther away from the street.

Jerry Gerber’s works stand apart from much of the art music written today to the effect that his inspired example is breathing life into the hope of serious musicians becoming relevant again. Composers today have succeeded in alienating the serious music-loving public. Poor attendance at new music concerts and festivals is testimony to that.

A half a century ago, the modern world was excited about the explosion of electronic technology and its affect on music that modern composers quickly embraced. Out of this ferment came Stockhausen, Xenakis, the Moog synthesizer, and later on Wendy Carlos. Frank Zappa once described Egard Varèse, regarded as the Father of electronic music, as his mentor, which would be a foretelling of the direction electronic music would take. Today, it informs music as diverse as hip-hop, house, ambient and techno. Meanwhile, the audience for modern art music is dwindling, which is another way of asking where are the electronic sounds that are so much a part of the zeitgeist of the Third Millennium? If things went awry for the serious composer about 50 years ago, it hasn’t stopped Jerry Gerber from quietly creating music that convincingly integrates conventional melody and atonality.

In 1958, the American composer and electronic music pioneer Milton Babbitt wrote a famous essay for High Fidelity entitled, “Who Cares if You Listen,” in which he argues for the support of music of the academy, describing its new tonal vocabulary as more “efficient” than the tonal language of other centuries. Babbitt concludes his essay with a warning that lack of support of music uninteresting to most listeners is a death knell to the evolution of music. Perhaps a better question could be posed to Milton Babbitt: “Who Cares if You Compose?”

Jerry Gerber writes for serious music lovers, not ivory tower musicologists, and for this, the music world is more varied and richer. Which means when a young person downloads a file of orchestral music from the Internet, it may well be a symphony composed by Jerry Gerber.

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