Interview by Robert Reigle
August 23, 2012
visual artist Harley Gaber wrote music with a unique ear for timbre,
creating a monumental work that had until recently gone relatively
unnoticed. During the late 1960s and early 70s, a zeitgeist of timbral
exploration was taking root around the world, with composers exploring
the inner components of sound more or less independently of each other.
Harley’s work constitutes a vibrant, yet unheralded component of this
suffered emotional difficulties for a long time. After an
extraordinarily active period in the modern composition community, he
stopped composing in the late 1970s, just after his great success with
Pierre Boulez conducting his magnum opus in New York. He only returned
to music composition around 2008, after Robert Zank had reissued his
long out-of-print album on CD. Harley Gaber took his own life on June
16, 2011, just two weeks after releasing his fourth album. I recorded
several interviews with him in August, 2010. Here is how our meeting
Jump back to
June, 1983; New York Public Library at Lincoln Center — a Composers
Recordings Inc. album with three composers I’d never heard of: William
Hellermann, Harley Gaber, and Paul Zonn. Gaber’s “Ludus Primus” and
“Kata” sounded beautiful, even more exciting than the double album of
electronic music on Mercury I had checked out on the same day,
featuring the likes of Xenakis, Ligeti, and Maderna. I made a cassette
copy to listen to until I could purchase the LP.
A bit later I
came across an intriguing blurb written by some insightful soul at New
Music Distribution Service, the great independent record distributor of
the 1970s and 80s, about a double album by Gaber called The Winds Rise
in the North. So on November 4, 1983 I purchased a copy at the
wholesale price of $7.85. What a fantastic album! The music sounded
different from anything else I had heard, its closest cousin perhaps
being that of Giacinto Scelsi. The gorgeous Buddhist painting on the
cover and an excerpt from the score printed in the gatefold deepened my
connection to the music (http://harleygaber.com/winds_rise_in_the_north.html).
Here was a composer I had to learn more about.
of Gaber’s music could be had in those waning years of the LP, and I
developed a habit of checking for Gaber every time I visited a record
shop. Ten years passed until I spotted the CRI album in a record shop.
Then another sixteen years passed, and with the flame of my interest
still burning, I was delighted to see that Robert Zank (Edition RZ)
reissued The Winds on CD, and lo and behold, there was a NEW Gaber
album as well (Indra’s Net). When I bought it, I checked the Internet
and found that Gaber had made a fantastic “Archive-Website” (www.harleygaber.com),
which revealed what he had been up to all those years, that he had made
a name for himself in the art world, and that he could be contacted.
I called him up
expecting to tell him how much I loved his music and to hear about his
contact with Scelsi, which he had mentioned on his site. We talked for
two hours. He told me about music, but also about the depth of his
personal problems - despair. He said that just the day before, he had
thrown away his tape recordings of electronic compositions done in the
1970s. I was flabbergasted and worried. A few days later I found myself
on a plane to Hillsborough (near San Francisco) to meet Harley and talk
about his music, with the intention of writing an article from an
He picked me up
from the airport, and we spent a few days recording our conversations.
I stayed with him in a beautiful estate in the richest zip code in the
United States, where he was house-sitting and taking care of the dog in
exchange for accommodation. We listened to some of the music he was
working on, for a second album on Innova. I made a few critical
suggestions, for which he later thanked me in the liner notes to his
final album. I recorded our conversations on an Edirol digital
recorder, which he gave me as a present when I left. He seemed to enjoy
our conversation very much, and when I left I felt that I had made a
Here is the
first interview I did with Harley, on August 12, 2010. It is unedited
and lasts 71 minutes. When I recorded it, I had the intention of
recording all of our conversations and then extracting the most
interesting parts to form a coherent text. Now that he’s gone, I want
to make the interview available in its entirety. Perhaps I will find a
way to edit the entire series in the future. Meanwhile, I think you may
find many fascinating insights into an unjustly neglected composer and
highly respected visual artist. Harley, we miss you.
and “Kata.” On Gaber/Hellerman/Zonn. New York: New World
Records, NWCRL299. Reissue of 1972 LP on Composers Recordings Inc.
Rise in the North. Berlin: Edition RZ, ed. RZ 4008-9. Reissue with
additional notes, of 1976 LP on Titanic. 2007. http://www.edition-rz.de
Berlin: Edition RZ, ed. RZ 1022. 2010.
I Saw My
Mother Ascending Mt. Fuji. St. Paul, MN: Innova Recordings, 231.
2010. Minneapolis: St. Paul, MN: Innova Recordings, 243. 2011.