Harley Gaber: In Memoriam 2010
Just as Harley Gaber's previous Innova release, I Saw My Mother Ascending Mt. Fuji, honoured the memory of a deceased family member, so too in a slightly different way does In Memoriam 2010, as it was commissioned by Dan Epstein (and the Dan J. Epstein Family Foundation) to commemorate the 2010 passing of his mother, Nancy Epstein. Yet while the piece did come into being as a result of a commission, In Memoriam 2010 is nevertheless a work that holds up as a stand-alone creation that addresses highly personalized themes important to Gaber such as mortality and consciousness. The recording also now assumes an added gravitas following the announcement that Gaber, faced with a debilitating illness, took his own life on June 16th, two weeks after the official release of In Memoriam 2010.
The composition exudes, even if on its own abstract terms, the aura of a requiem, beginning as it does with the chaotic turmoil of apocalypse but ending with the healing force of redemptive tranquility. Gaber's recording doesn't ease the listener in gently but instead drops him/her into the center of an exploding star cluster in “Cataclysm and Threnody,” and the turbulence only grows more intense in the moments following. The howling material seethes and writhes, as if struggling to wrest itself free from some black hole, and if the work is, as described, a memoriam (a “coda to the end of the world,” to be precise), it's clearly not going gently into anyone's good night; it's rather fighting with fierce determination to oppose any externalized attempts at snuffing out its life force. Glassy, swirling sheets of grime rise and fall, as the first part inches its way towards the second, “Threnody and Prayer,” which continues without interruption and brings the intensity level down a few notches. As the material assumes a state of relative calm, faint traces of mournful classical themes emerge, punctuating the fabric of the pulsating drone with a lamentation's tone, until “Ground of the Great Sympathy: Aftermath” appears, bringing with it intimations of orgasmic rebirth, choral interspersions, and the omnipresent threat of violent rupture, and then “In-Formation,” a thirteen-minute drone of more settled and peaceful character. A gradual sense of decompression sets in as we move through the final stages, “Coalescing” and “...With Completion,” until the recording comes to an atmospheric and peaceful close.
Gaber's release will be manna from heaven for those who like to have as much background reading at their disposal as possible when absorbing a recording, as the composer himself has generously provided a booklet-long article detailing the work's history and genesis. The text's net is cast more than a little widely, with Biocentrism (a theory encompassing issues of human consciousness, perceptual realities, and Quantum Physics), changes in Gaber's own approach to composing today compared to the period between 1960 and 1978, and the evolution in his outlook and musical style all issues covered by the text. Gaber provides an in-depth account of the released work's various incarnations, the first of which, an improvised keyboard work called Turning Music, was deemed unsuitable. He then considered re-composing an already created work as a possible solution and so turned to Portrait and Dream, a 2009 work that dealt with Jackson Pollock, and Portrait and Dream: In Memoriam Kenneth Gaburo, a second treatment of the work begun in early 2010 and dedicated to Gaber's primary composition teacher (who died in 1993). It is this latter work that has closest ties to the material that would eventually crystallize into the spectral dronescape In Memoriam 2010. Gaber's not shy when it comes to disclosing source materials for the work's movements; presumably he feels even more comfortable doing so than he naturally would when the final results bear so little trace of the originating material that Gaber has so thoroughly transformed through manipulations. Among the works he acknowledges as having drawn from are a soundtrack to the Russian film Come and See, Verdi's “Laudi alla Vergine Maria,” Beethoven's “Adagio quasi un poco andante” (from his Op. 131 String Quartet in C-sharp Minor), and a vocal fragment from Feldman's Rothko Chapel. The material in its finished form exudes none of the character of a pastiche or collage, however, as Gaber alchemizes all such source elements into a long-form, multi-chapter work of sixty-four-minute duration.