Virtual Orchestra, Real Music: A Conversation with Composer Jerry Gerber
By Robert Schulslaper
Until recently, if you wrote a symphony and wanted to hear it performed, you had to either be well-connected or of sufficient repute to have conductors or orchestra managers come hat-in-hand to your door; win a competition that might award you with a performance; be an academic who could persuade the school orchestra to participate; or be able to finance the premiere yourself. With the development of computer-assisted musical technologies such as notation programs, sound synthesis and instrumental sample libraries, composers like Jerry Gerber can write, orchestrate, produce, record and distribute their work on CD or online without having to rely on any intermediaries. In addition to eleven symphonies, Jerry’s composed assorted works for piano (virtual and otherwise), hymns, concertos that blend world-class oboe, clarinet, and violin soloists with his idiomatic electronic/sampled orchestrations, and numerous film, TV, and video game scores. And if that’s not enough, he maintains an electronic studio for outside projects, produces CDs for his own Ottava label, teaches composition and theory, and is currently preparing a discussion group on musical appreciation aimed at newcomers to classical music. The release of his CD, Home & Love in a Disordered World, brought the opportunity to speak with him about both his music and the art of composing for virtual orchestra.
Before we get to Home & Love in a Disordered
World, I thought we might learn something of your beginnings in music: you began
to play when you were nine years old. Why? Also, what
instruments were you attracted to?
I don’t know why I was so drawn to music, perhaps it’s because music is so wonderful and there’s always more to learn about it. Keyboard and guitar, those are the instruments I’ve always been drawn to. Probably because I love harmony as much as I do melody.
Are you from a musical family?
My parents were not musical, but there were some musicians among my relatives and ancestors.
When did you begin to feel that you were a composer?
I wrote my first piece for the accordion when I was ten. Then I started writing songs and I decided when I was nineteen that I wanted to focus on composition for the remainder of my life. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to do that.
What sort of music were you writing at the time?
Folk songs, mainly.
Were you attracted to classical music from the beginning?
When I was a kid, the only classical music I was exposed to, was Peter and the Wolf, which I absolutely loved. My parents were not into classical music. I started listening to classical music when I was about twenty years old, and quickly became hooked. I heard things in this music that aroused my curiosity like no other music I had heard before.
How about jazz, folk, rock, etc?
I studied jazz guitar with Eddie Arkin and played guitar in rock bands for about eight years. I enjoy performing and wrote some songs for the people I played with, but I got tired of playing rock n’ roll, it became too predictable for me and the lifestyle didn’t fit my personality.
Among the samples of music available at your website is a joint improvisation for clarinet and piano that I found very enjoyable.
Improv is important to me, both as a source for ideas and for the pleasure of just playing. Art Austin, the first clarinetist for the Marin Symphony, who happens to also be a great improviser, is whom I am improvising with on that recording. I particularly love free improv, where nothing is decided upon—not the tempo, not chord progression, not style, just listening and reacting to one another. There’s both a freedom and discipline in conversing with another player under those conditions.
Why do you compose, and how do you hope people will respond to your music once your release it into the world?
I compose because I need to, as composing gives me something that no other activity I’ve ever been involved in gives me. It also allows me to give of myself to both music and to my listeners in a way that I can only do through music. As far as how I hope people will respond to my music, of course like any composer I feel gratified when people appreciate and are moved by my recordings. But because I am working in a relatively new medium, because people's reactions are out of my control and because listening to music without distraction is an increasingly uncommon activity, there's a certain amount of "letting go" that has to occur once I am done with a project and put it out there. The most realistic assumptions I have found that work for me are 1) someone will like it, 2) someone won't, and 3) someone won't care. That's all OK by me. I'm fortunate I'm able to write music and I remind myself of that every day. The common fantasy of the artist seeking "immortality" through their art is absurd. If I, or anyone, for that matter, can achieve immortality it would be through being a decent human being, being kind, patient, fair and just toward others, through being peaceful and merciful. I don't believe we achieve immortality by how skilled or talented we are at what we do, but more so by character itself, how we treat others and how willing we are to face truths about ourselves no matter where that truth leads. Maybe I am totally wrong, that's certainly possible, but until I have evidence to the contrary I will continue to believe.
Although you occasionally include “live” musicians in your compositions, most of your music is written for a virtual orchestra of electronically sampled instruments plus synthesizers. Where does this interest come from? Did you ever consider writing purely electronic music Ó la Morton Subotick, et al?
I started playing around with tape recorders at an early age, around eleven. I was as fascinated with being able to record sound as I was with music itself. I guess I haven't changed much in that respect! I've written numerous pieces for electronic sounds only, no sampled acoustic instruments, no sampled orchestral instruments. I don't even write a score for those types of pieces. They're always relatively short compositions. I actually talked with Morton Subotnick, as I got a scholarship to attend Cal Arts (California Institute of the Arts, where he taught). But I wanted to immerse myself in classical music rather than electronic music (this was before MIDI, before digital, before sample libraries) so I chose to enroll in San Francisco State University's music program, which was a better fit for me at the time. My education in electronic music didn't really begin until right after I graduated with my Bachelor's in classical music theory and composition.
Is part of the appeal of composing with a computer the ability to write pieces beyond the capability of a human being to execute?
Sort of. When I write pieces for virtual piano I can write passages that need to be played with 12 fingers or 4 hands. But the real joy for me is more about how to make something sound expressive, intentional and meaningful in a relatively new musical medium. When a great musician picks up a violin and makes magic with it, we usually don’t think about the fact that the violin--made of wood and other materials, doesn’t feel the beauty in the music (at least we don’t think it does) —it takes a human mind to appreciate what the violinist is doing. Same with a computer. I doubt the CPU, audio interface, cables or speakers appreciate the melodies, harmonies and rhythms that the composer is using in his or her compositions. Both a violin and a computer are human inventions, neither occurs in nature but are the creation of human effort and intervention.
For centuries, we’ve made music with bone, wood and metal. Our age has added electrons and bits and bytes to our musical tools. Music is about moving sound through air through the use of melody, harmony, rhythm and tone color. I don’t think of the computer music studio as an orchestra, it is a complex array of tools that allow for multi-timbral composition and recording. What I do is a solo musician’s art; I am the creator and interpreter of my work. It is a studio art, not a performance art, at least not performance in the traditional sense. Though I still occasionally use the term “virtual orchestra” I do so only because of the deeply ingrained association between multi-timbral composition and performance with an ensemble or orchestra. The term should not be taken literally.
As far as acoustical facsimiles are concerned, are you hoping to create a sound indistinguishable from the originals? Playing Devil’s advocate, and not restricting myself to your music, I feel that while there’s been a great improvement over the years, certain emulations have a long way to go.
No, that is not my hope at all. The acoustic orchestra is a remarkable achievement. The beauty of tone, wide dynamic range, the many colors that can be achieved, the richness of sound—and the psychosocial energies of many people cooperating and listening to one another while making music together—it’s obvious that a great symphony orchestra is an incomparable musical institution.
In my work I use a sample library called the Vienna Symphonic Cube. It consists of over 764,000 digital samples of acoustic instruments. The solo violin sample set alone consists of thousands of digital samples—each note of every instrument is sampled in multiple dynamic levels and multiple playing styles. What I do is a studio art, I try to create, in a recorded medium, the dynamic range, beauty of tone and timbral variety that makes music irresistible, pleasurable to listen to and meaningful. Not for one second do I consider what I do anything more or less than an ongoing experiment in recording music compositions. One musician cannot be an orchestra.
Though the quality of synthesizers and sample libraries have improved remarkably over the past twenty years, perhaps listening to music made in a new medium is an acquired taste. When Bob Dylan first came on stage with an electric guitar in 1965 at the Newport folk festival many in the audience were upset and felt betrayed, as though the purity of folk music was under threat. This kind of nonsense is ridiculous, it’s what happens when people take their traditions too seriously. New musical instruments are going to continue to be invented, just as the harpsichord, the electric piano and valves on the trumpet once didn’t exist and now they do. The computer is, at least in my experience, an amazing musical instrument. There’s going to be good music created with it and bad music, just like with any other instrument.
Considering the genre as a whole, I accept that any purely electronic sounds are never intended to be substitutes for acoustic instruments, but fascinating though they may be, to me they lack a certain je ne sais quoi—resonance, timbral complexity, warmth?
Why do we make the comparison in the first place? We don’t compare a fine art photograph to an oil painting and dismiss it because it’s not a painting—we don’t even expect it to be a painting, we accept it as a photograph. We don’t compare a film to live theater and then say it’s fake because it’s not a live play. A similar attitude should prevail when experiencing music played on computer-based instruments. Comparing a recording of sampled instruments to a live performance is not useful or even fair in my opinion, there’s no point to it. Comparing a recording of sampled instruments to a recording of acoustic instruments makes some sense, but even then, if one is opposed to sampled instruments on philosophical or ideological grounds there’s no point in trying to convince a person of the artistic merits of the work. The term “electronic music” defines a medium in the same way that “piano music” defines a medium. Within that medium are countless styles, levels of musicianship, compositional originality or lack thereof, brilliance or mediocrity.
For some people, live music is the best possible way to hear music. I get that. I like live music too. But ever since I was a boy, I’ve always enjoyed listening to recorded music and never felt anything was lacking in the experience. Hearing and perception are personal tastes. How we hear music is highly subjective and I assume everything I write will be enjoyed by someone, disliked by someone and leave another listener indifferent. I feel good when others appreciate my work, but I take no responsibility for how people react to my music as it’s out of my control. If my goal were to create a recording that sounds exactly like a recording of a live orchestra I certainly would not go to the trouble and expense of producing music with computers, I’d write for live orchestra! Yet being able to bypass the politics, economics and time-element of trying to get ensembles to play my works is something I value. When it comes to getting live performances by major orchestras, composers are competing with people who’ve been dead for hundreds of years. It’s liberating not to have to deal with that reality and still be able to create complex, multi-timbral compositions and recordings.
Have any of your large-scale electronic pieces been performed by symphonic orchestras, with the addition of any purely electronic sounds that might be required?
No, and I’ve made almost zero attempts to get them performed. Though my talent and training is as a composer, my temperament is more like a poet or painter, I like to create a finished piece and offer it to the world. Depending upon large numbers of people has never been one of my strong points. I’m also somewhat of a computer nerd and enjoy working with technology to invent music with these fascinating instruments. If a conductor offered me a well-rehearsed performance with a fine ensemble and a professional quality recording, I wouldn’t turn it down. But I don’t put my energy into seeking that, I love the medium I’ve chosen to work in.
One of your CDs has a track called Raga and you’ve written pieces devoted to Chinese poetry that incorporate sounds of traditional Chinese instruments (Moon Festival). Does this indicate an interest in music from other traditions besides Western classical music?
I studied some non-western music traditions while working on my Bachelors of Music in composition and music theory and enjoyed learning about the use of scales divided into more than 12 notes and hearing different tuning systems. One of the really enjoyable things about working in the computer music studio is that I can combine instruments from all over the world, as I did with the songs in Moon Festival. Raga has a drone-like feel to it and it felt somewhat like an Indian raga, hence the name.
Again, based on the titles of some of your works, I’d guess that you’ve been inspired by various astronomical phenomena, as in Galaxies, your 7th Symphony, as well as by spiritual concerns.
When I was a boy I wanted to be an astronomer but I didn’t have the gift for physics and mathematics and soon realized that the arts were going to be where I’d find my calling. I’ve been a long-time practitioner of daily meditation and have spent the past thirty-five years or so studying a thick book called The Urantia Papers, while trying to put the teachings into practice in my daily life. The astronomer and teacher Carl Sagan said two things that have always stuck in my mind: Keep an open mind but not so open that your brains fall out, and he also said that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. When it comes to the mysteries, origins, destiny and purpose of the universe, these two statements resonate with me.
When I first listened to the Symphony from Home & Love, the word “cinematic” immediately came to mind, and various reviews confirmed that I wasn’t alone in that impression. But although I felt it was apt, I started to wonder what exactly it means? In my experience, any kind of music can be used effectively in a film (and probably has been!).
I’m not sure what it means either. It could mean dramatic, it could mean it inspires visual impressions, or it could just mean that the music reminds you of a film you once saw. I do know that film music composition is about conforming music to a non-musical medium. Unlike music for ballet, Broadway, song or opera, film music is not a 50/50 collaboration. In all other collaborative efforts, the ultimate form, style, pacing and drama is either determined by, or heavily influenced by, music. But in music for film, the music is added last, after all or most of the other elements have already been determined. This is why we call it background music. It’s not meant to be listened to directly but rather to adjust our emotions according to the director’s vision of what the film is communicating.
I know you’re speaking from experience, as you’ve done your share of film and video game music. I got a kick out of learning that you’d written music for Gumby, both individual episodes and the movie, which I fondly remember from back in the day…
The many scores (over 80) I wrote for the Gumby television series stood out at the time, as Gumby was probably one of the first TV shows to feature an all MIDI score, and of course I was heavily criticized for that. I had a lot of fun doing that project, the short Gumby episodes could be very strange and all kinds of music, from atonal to rock to folk were created for that show.
To date you’ve written eleven symphonies, so obviously you enjoy the genre. Are you particularly drawn to large-scale works?
The term “symphony” comes with a lot of cultural baggage. It calls to mind the hall, the conductor, the nicely dressed audience, the players, the event itself, i.e. "We're going to the symphony tonight." But my use of the term is far more narrow: I am referring to the musical form, the four-movement, long-form musical structures that allow composers to really stretch their imagination through the development of musical materials. What appeals to me about the symphony as musical expression is the abstract nature of how composers make a lot out of a little, one could call it "the economics of composition." A 12-minute movement might contain only two or three main ideas, and those ideas are developed and put through many variations. I really enjoy the challenge of doing that. But I like writing both large scale and short works. Every few years I’ll write short piano pieces just to “get back to the basics” of harmony, melody and rhythm.
Do you follow a classical model when devising the form of your symphonies?
Not exactly. Sometimes theme and variations or sonata form can be detected in my works, but I rarely work that way consciously. However, I do usually include a slow movement and sometimes I'll use the same theme(s) in multiple movements, with each movement treating the theme differently.
Is Home & Love in a Disordered World the title of the Symphony or just the name of the CD as a whole?
It's the title of the CD, based on the title of the song Home & Love, a musical rendition of a Robert Service poem. Due to COVID, my wife Lisa and I have spent an enormous amount of time at home these past few years. Though we both work at home and have for a long time, COVID meant no vacations, no trips to see family, no going to concerts, plays or films at night, no friends over for dinner or parties. So, everything came down to the basics: Home and Love.
For the song, how did you combine a “real” voice with the electronic accompaniment?
Usually I bring a singer into my studio to record the vocal part. The vocalist will sing to the sequenced instruments and we’ll record multiple tracks. Then I find the best takes in each track and create a composite track that becomes mixed with the instruments. But with Home & Love we were all in lockdown due to COVID and I couldn’t bring anyone into my studio. I found my vocalist, Kira Fondse, online. She lives in Vancouver Canada and has the voice I thought would work well for this piece so I hired her. She recorded her part synchronized to the music track I sent to her. Then Kira sent her vocal tracks back to me and I mixed them in my studio in San Francisco.
How did you come to the Service poems and Cathy Colman’s Body Politics?
I was looking for a song to write for my daughter’s wedding in the summer of 2020 and found Home & Love online when researching poetry. The wedding got canceled due to COVID but I wrote and produced the song anyway as a gift to her and her fiancÚ.
Cathy Colman is an award-winning poet and a long-time friend of mine; we went to junior high school together. She sent me a book of her newest poetry and Body Politics really excited me. The first thing I did was transcribe her recording that was made on a smart phone and created a detailed meter and tempo map based on her timing and interpretation of the poem. I then wrote the music within the confines of the meter/tempo map. Then I cleaned up her recording because she couldn’t come to San Francisco (because of COVID again) to record in my studio and removed some of the background noise and improved the tonal quality of her recording, and finally mixed the voice and music together on my DAW (digital audio workstation).
When setting poetry, what sort of considerations influence your musical decisions?
Two main concerns: 1) is it singable, will it sound good sung? There are many poems that work well as poetry when read, but do not necessarily work when sung. Complex words, abstract concepts and poetry without emotion don’t necessarily make good songs. 2) Do the words resonate with me personally, does the poem reach into my own life experience and give me the motivation to set it to music? If these two requirements are met, there’s a good chance I will set the poem to music.
Since the booklet doesn’t include a detailed description of the symphony, perhaps you could indicate some of the salient points.
My 11th symphony for virtual instruments begins with a gentle theme shifting between D-minor and D-flat major. The secondary material is related to and drawn from the primary theme. This movement is scored for piccolo, 3 flutes, 3 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, tambourine, cymbals, gong, glockenspiel, celeste, harp, Dune (a software synthesizer) and full string section (1st and 2nd violins, violas, cellos and basses). The synthesizer is used in a rhythmic, percussive role. It ends with the main theme becoming more energetic and dramatic and then yielding to a return to the beginning. In the second movement I add two more software synthesizers to increase the percussive propulsion of the movement. The primary theme is put through many variations and permutations as the movement progresses. A composer friend of mine commented that this movement sounds "American" to him. The slow third movement uses a considerably smaller ensemble consisting of English horn, harp, Dune, solo violin, solo viola, solo cello and string section. In this movement Dune, instead of playing a percussive role, is playing both a harmonic and melodic one. The English horn plays a dominant thematic role in this movement. The fourth and last movement returns to a much larger orchestration, including four synthesizer timbres and two vocal choirs, both choirs singing Latin syllables that have no literal meaning but chosen rather for their sonic qualities. For this reason I don't notate the "words" that the choirs are singing. I hope that helps. I’ve left out a lot of the technical and theoretical aspects, preferring to let the music speak for itself.
Why did you decide to use “a considerably smaller ensemble” for the third movement?
Sometimes less is more. It's not unusual when I write an adagio to reduce the number of instruments to get a more intimate sound.
In his liner notes, David Baer remarks on your use of “choral forces in the final movement,” as well as in a number of your previous works.
For myself, the "families" of the virtual ensemble are sampled winds, brass and percussion, synths, sampled voices and sampled strings. I'll use vocal samples either as solo voices, or as a choir or even as another instrument that blends into the larger ensemble. In the 4th movement of the 11th symphony they're being used mainly as a choir.
The choir in the Symphony and in your Hymn to the Divine was very convincing: how did you program the “machine” to reproduce the sounds of words so faithfully?
The poem Hymn to the Divine came to me one night in meditation. I believe there is something within human nature that can transcend the brevity, uncertainty and dreadfulness of life and nevertheless experience happiness, joy and peace in our short, but intensely meaningful existence on earth. I wanted to write something concerning the sacred, something that gave expression to the divine within each of us.
This piece was produced using a virtual choir with word building artificial intelligence. The choir is carefully recorded singing vowels, consonants, plosives and other sounds. The word-building software lets me type in the words I want the choir to sing and uses ingenious algorithms to make the words reasonably intelligible. Most people know that when listening to a live choir in a church it’s not easy to understand what the choir is singing unless the words are written in the program notes or we know the words by heart. The virtual choir also is best experienced when the written text is being followed while listening. I was happy with the results so I went ahead this year and wrote eight more hymns, some based on lyrics I wrote and some by other poets, and the new work, Nine Hymns on Spiritual Life, is going to be on the CD I release next year, along with an oboe concerto. For those who are interested, the text and scores of all nine hymns are available at no cost atwww.jerrygerber.com/hymns.htm.
Is meditation an essential part of your creative process?
Absolutely. Music is about sound, and sound emerges from silence. I am of the opinion that until a musician can fully appreciate silence, their notes just won’t mean as much. The space between the notes is as important as the notes themselves. Meditation can be misused, just like anything we humans involve ourselves with. But when approached rightly, meditation can be a great tool to neutralize stress and help clarify feelings, goals and to see ourselves as we really are. If we bring sincerity, humility and curiosity to the meditation process we can continually adjust our attitudes that bring us closer to living an integrated, loving and more rational existence. We have such little control over so much that happens in life, but the little we do have control over—our actions, thoughts, decisions, our words—they are what makes the difference between growth and stagnation, and between happiness and conflict.
Commenting on the fourth movement and your oeuvre in general, Baer writes, "Synthesizers (computer-based software instruments here) are in evidence much of the time, most often adding an irresistible propulsive drive. Jerry has always shown an extraordinary sensibility in orchestrating for conventional symphonic instruments alongside virtual electronic ones that arguably has no equal."
What part does MIDI [music instrument digital interface] play?
Sequencing is about detail. It’s not enough to tell the computer what notes to play, you have to tell the computer how to play those notes: How to attack and release the note, where the note goes relative to the beat, how loud or soft the note is, what instrument is playing the passage and in what playing style (marcato, legato, sforzando, staccato, pizzicato, etc.). MIDI makes a lot possible, but not necessarily easy or simple. Sequencing involves “phrase-shaping”; just as in the acoustic musical world the player creates phrasing through breathing, bowing and emphasizing strong and weak beats and shorter or longer notes, the electronic musician must pay attention to phrasing as well. But instead of doing it physically it can be done through MIDI programming—conceptually.
Although your academic studies took place at a time when atonality and serialism were de rigueur and departure from the prevailing dogma was frowned upon, you’ve chosen to express yourself largely within a framework of traditional tonality. Why?
I like to think of tonality as analogous to gravity. Why gravity? Because the laws of gravity are immutable. An aircraft can fly from San Francisco to New York so long as the engines are producing thrust. The aircraft doesn't make the laws of gravity disappear, it works within the laws through the aerodynamics of the aircraft's design, and through the power of the engines to keep the plane in the air. If for some reason that thrust stops, the plane eventually will be pulled back to Earth via gravity. Likewise, there are laws governing harmonics. If we take a vibrating string and have it wound to a certain tension and pluck it, a tone occurs. If we divide that string in half, the octave above the original tone will sound. If we divide the string into 3 parts, we get the 12th, which is vibrating 3 times the fundamental pitch. The 3rd harmonic, musically speaking, is the perfect 5th plus one octave. If we continue with our whole integer division of the string, we get the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th harmonics—essentially a triadic chord somewhere in-between a major and minor triad. We can go on dividing the string and as we do it becomes clear that musical harmony is largely, but not entirely, based on the laws governing harmonics. True, tuning systems make slight deviations from the naturally occurring overtone series, but nevertheless, harmonics follow certain laws, as does gravity. The three elements of tonality that appear to be in play are 1) the physics of the tones themselves, as expressed in the overtone series and harmonics, 2) the brain and ear's perception of those tones and 3) the cultural/personal bias we overlay on that experience.
When Schoenberg invented his serial techniques in the early 20s in Germany, he tried to, as far is as humanly possible, subvert the overtone series influence on harmony. Yet when I studied serial music in earnest I found it increasingly depressing. Though I recognized the expansion of melodic thought that came from this new system, I also discovered, based on the strict rules of dodecaphonic music, that the high cost for this new way of looking at melodic invention was to the harmony. The disruption of the overtone series influence on harmony was something I had to eventually reject. After writing several pieces in this style, I had to break the rules to the point where I could get harmonies that resonated with my musical taste and subjective experience as a composer, and I eventually completely abandoned all attempts to create music from serialized tone rows. I do teach my students about atonality and dodecaphonicism because it's my duty as a teacher, but I have absolutely no interest in carrying on that tradition as a composer.
The socioeconomic conditions under which Schoenberg created his new system of composition were disastrous. Germany was in ruins due to World War I, over four million young German men were either killed or lost in the war and after the war unemployment was raging and the German government owed huge war reparations. This dark period gave rise to fascism and the Nazi party, which led to one of the most destructive and criminal governments ever to exist on Earth. It's no wonder, at least to my ears, why Schoenberg's style is so effective at giving expression to dread, anxiety, uncertainty and a sense that life's dilemmas are essentially unresolvable.
Composers can delay, mask, suspend and play with the laws governing harmonics, but we cannot get rid of those laws any more than an aircraft "gets rid of" gravity. The principles of chromaticism/diatonicism (12-and 7-tone scales) and consonance/dissonance operate in much of western music. Writing using all 12-tones effectively is important to modern serious composers, but so is the balance between consonance and dissonance. Like life, music can be light and dark, heavy and soft, warm and cold, dramatic and peaceful, simple and complicated. The unity of opposites is an important consideration when inventing music; music that has no dissonance has no tension, no drama or conflict, in other words it is unrealistic. Music without consonance has no resolution, no peace, no sense of completion or arrival. Its absence is also unrealistic because life contains both consonance and dissonance, as should music.
There is a joyous, positive and hopeful side to life; life also contains pleasures, happiness and a sense of purpose and achievement. Should not music be free to express all sides of our experience? I think atonal music works well for horror films but other than that I personally have no interest in writing or listening to it. When I attended a concert of young composers graduating from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music a few years ago, I was happy, and not surprised, to hear that all of the music I heard rejected the influence of serialism and atonality. We must find a way, as Mahler and Barber so successfully did, to create chromatic yet tonal music that balances dissonance and consonance and does what harmony is supposed to: Elicit an intelligent emotional response in the listener.