Review: Harley Gaber – In Memoriam 2010

Just like the smudged, distorted gibbous of a half-hidden planet earth on the album’s cover, the music within is muffled, blurred and spun out of shape. Sometimes it sounds like alien chatter heard beneath murky water, phased into communicative pulses and shrieking in high, theremin-esque wails. But at other points it’s difficult to grasp at any imagery at all; the listener is left to spiral out of control, lost inside a carousel of swirling, vibrant colour contrasts. Tod Dockstader springs to mind as a point of comparison – the music of both artists seems absolutely free and ungrounded, and while everyone travels between definitive points of departure and destination, Gaber’s abstract sonics drift through the vacuum without traceable origin.

The album has strong connections to life and death, being dedicated to the life of Nancy Epstein (mother of Dan Epstein of the Dan J. Epstein foundation), and with Harley Gaber himself committing suicide just two weeks following the release of In Memoriam. There’s a sense that the music contemplates “the other side” – not just an ode to the finality of life, but a haunting and beautiful interpretation of the ungraspable something that may exist beyond. As may be derived from my description, the latter feels more prominent; In Memoriam doesn’t feel concerned with what is and was, but with what could be. Tonality and texture are forever in flux, as though constantly unanchoring the reason and logic that founds listener understanding.

Perhaps the music is as mysterious and undefined for the artist as it is the listener, released to evoke an emotional response without any comprehension of where it comes from or what it signifies. Even if so, there’s a sense that Gaber is channelling something currently beyond listener comprehension – passing messages from the void of death back into the cocoon of life, himself within mere touching distance of the beyond and already exposed to its new array of lights and sounds.