Maybe you couldn't hear a pin drop while Gem Club played, but the music was so hushed, you could hear a keyboard click in the distance. Gem Club is Christopher Barnes, cellist Kristen Drymala and vocalist Ieva Berberian. I remember seeing the band perform amid the frenzy of CMJ, a zoo of a music festival in New York City, this past fall. After encountering one raucous band after another, the lack of electric guitar, the absence of distortion and a band bereft of a screamy singer, Gem Club seemed to make time stand still. I could just as easily have been standing next to a stream with autumn leaves floating down. Frankly, the band brought me to tears — and made one of my favorite albums of 2011, Breakers.
What's odd is that this is one of the few times we've amplified a voice at the NPR Music offices. We fed Barnes' voice through a pair of speakers because so much of what this trio does involves creating space. He needed reverb: It's not a simple enhancement, but rather a defining part of Gem Club's sound, along with the chorus-like keyboard effects. It's subtle but essential in the same way Ieva Berberian's voice is spare and occasional, and in the same way the melodic bells played by cellist Kristen Drymala are used so economically. We set up a special floor camera just to capture that moment, and though that camera rolled for Gem Club's entire performance, you'll see it only briefly. There is a preciousness to this music, and though I've heard that word to describe music in a negative way, in this case it's just right; everything played is valued. We could use some of that now and again.
Michael Katzif (cameras); edited by Bob Boilen; audio by Kevin Wait; photo by Mallory Bennedict