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Virtual-Orchestra Maestro

12/1/2002

While manipulating digital audio is all the rage among many electronic musicians, San Francisco — based composer Jerry Gerber is excited about the possibilities of MIDI. “I look at MIDI as an art form, not as a mock-up for some other medium,” Gerber says. “We're a long way from where we were ten years ago. The tools have evolved and the samples have gotten better. I'm interested in blending fine art and electronics. Electricity is a fundamental force in the universe. Making music with electricity is just another extension of humankind's desire to make tools and make music with those tools.”

Gerber works in his personal studio, composing music for film, video, television, radio, and computer games. He also composes modern classical music for electronic instruments, and Moon Festival is his most recent release. It showcases his lush, expressive, and highly dynamic MIDI ensembles. Soprano Janet Campbell's operatic vocals are featured on the album's centerpiece, a suite titled “Five Songs on the Poetry of Tu Fu,” which is based on eighth-century Chinese poetry.

“A sequencer can play things right on the beat, but that doesn't make it mechanical,” Gerber says. “It reveals the weaknesses in a composition. You have to work hard to create gesture and expression in your phrases so they sound natural, so there's a sense of punctuation.” Gerber researches sounds from his sample libraries, synthesizers, and samplers; builds ensembles; and sequences his ideas in Cakewalk's Sonar — his primary tool for composing, recording, editing, and mixing. He uses Steinberg's WaveLab for mastering.

“I start every piece in Sonar. I do all my composing in the notation view,” he says. He manipulates the MIDI parameters of each note to infuse the performance with human expressiveness. “It's time-consuming; it isn't magical,” Gerber says of the process. “I pay attention to details.”

As for building MIDI ensembles, Gerber says “orchestration is like sculpture: you get rid of everything you don't need. I don't follow the way an orchestra is set up onstage because our ears hear a recording differently than a live performance. I try to find a balance between each instrument. Transparency is an important value in orchestration.”

Gerber uses three Pentium III PCs — one serves as his digital audio workstation and the other two run Tascam's GigaStudio. His studio also includes an Echo Digital Audio Layla24 digital audio interface and a Mackie Digital 8-Bus mixer. A Roland XP-30 synth serves as his MIDI controller, driving Roland JV-1080 and XV-3080 synth modules and E-mu E6400 and E6400 Ultra samplers. Gerber recorded Campbell's vocals in a WhisperRoom isolation booth using an Audio-Technica AT4033 condenser mic.

Gerber's “stock sounds” for Moon Festival include Ilio Entertainments' Miroslav Vitous Symphonic Orchestra String Ensembles sample library; Dan Dean's Solo Brass, Solo Strings, and Solo Woodwinds sample libraries; and E-mu Emulator sample libraries for percussion sounds. “I'll go through hundreds of sounds to find one [sound], and even then, I might edit it.” Gerber says.

“I enjoy being a composer more than a sound designer,” Gerber adds. “I enjoy working with counterpoint, harmony, and structure. You can do so many things with a virtual orchestra that you can't do with an acoustic orchestra, and vice versa. You have to know the limitations of the medium.”

For more information, contact Ottava Records; Web www.jerrygerber.com.

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