Harley Gaber RIP

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Minimalist composer, film maker, visual artist, and tennis player Harley Gaber died last week in Gallup, New Mexico. Gaber committed suicide on 16 June, two weeks after the release of his final album, In Memoriam. He was born in Chicago in 1943.

As well as various musical and artistic projects, Gaber also played tennis, pool, and was captain of his high school football team. In 1977, Gaber gave up composing to move to California and play tennis. When an injury threatened his game, friend Bill Hellerman says that Gaber learnt to play with the other arm. Around this time he also began to take prescription drugs, to increase his concentration and reduce the amount of sleep he needed.

In 2010, Gaber was physically and mentally burnt-out, and found himself unable to sleep, the result of his ever-increasing obsessional projects. Innova's Philip Blackburn, a friend of Gaber's, says that it was this point Gaber began to sort out his affairs. He organised his belongings, sent them out to friends, and paid for his domain name for the next ten years.

Gaber then received a grant from close friends the Epstein family, in the form of a commission from the Dan J Epstein Family Foundation, with which Gaber was able to compose and record In Memoriam 2010, dedicated to Nancy Epstein.

In the final years of his life Gaber released four albums: I Saw My Mother Ascending Mt Fuji in 2009, and in 2010, Sovereign Of The Centre and The Realm Of Indra’s Net. In Memoriam 2010 was released two weeks before Gaber committed suicide.

Blackburn says: "Harley had entertained thoughts of suicide for years but the race was now between that and his spiraling physical condition. With everything wrapped up and no obvious prospects ahead, the former won out on June 16.

"Harley’s final work served as his own swan song; a facing up to the end of thought, a reconciliation with death, and the continuing cycles of destruction and re-ordering… Like himself and all his works, the surface simplicity belies the rich world of ideas and emotion beneath.

"Harley’s life and art were one; he and his music shared the same complex personality, uncompromised by marketing concerns or wanting to fit into any scene. His music has a small cult following because it anticipated some trends that happened decades later in the new music orthodoxy, but it is the high level of perfectly-realised thoughts in sound, that could only have sprung from his fragile life of outsider-dom, that ensures his stature as one of America’s most important artists. I will miss his voice on the phone but know that it’s all there in his music."

Gaber's archival website is available here.

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