We have read on The Official Hermetic Science Web Site that you have begun a new project in which the band’s three albums will be remixed.
Yes, this is true. Between March and June 2002, we remixed and remastered the first Hermetic Science album, Hermetic Science (1997). With this album, our goal was to create a deeper, more vivid soundstage. In some tracks, we pushed the vibes up a bit in the mix, while in other tracks we boosted the bass level. On four tracks where I had always wanted sitar, I invited Jason Hoopes to add sitar drones, which I think added a great deal of atmosphere to the music. I also added some discreet 10-string lyre parts to two tracks. When the remixed version of the first album is reissued, the original closing track, “Mars,” will be excised, and will be replaced with two vibes-based tracks from the Prophesies album of 1999, “Intrigue in the House of Panorama” and “Jacob’s Ladder.”
This past month (March-April 2003), we remixed and remastered En Route (2001). Our goal was somewhat different with this album than with our debut album. I was never totally comfortable with the drum sound on the first five tracks of En Route; in the new mix, the drum sound on these tracks is more up-front and more consistent than before. I also wanted to bring the keyboard arrangements of the first five tracks into line with the very sophisticated and subtle keyboard orchestrations that characterize the album’s final three tracks. As a result, on “Mars” and the first and third movements of “Against the Grain,” I added some new keyboard colors, as well as removing some keyboard colors from the original mix that had been overused. The result is a more vivid, multi-hued orchestration; another result is that the five tracks recorded in 2000 and the three tracks recorded in 2001 sound much more consistent, much more the product of a single vision, than they did before. On the re-release of En Route, we will retain the original track listings.
We hope to finish the remixing/remastering project in late spring or early summer with Prophesies. The current bonus track of Prophesies, a 19-minute arrangement of ELP’s Tarkus for solo acoustic piano, will not be included on the re-release. Instead, the plan is that this summer the Hermetic Science lineup that recorded the final three tracks of En Route—myself, bassist/guitarist Jason Hoopes, and drummer Joe Nagy—will convene and record a three-movement, 16 minute piece called Triptych. This was a piece I composed in the late eighties, and stylistically it has a close connection with a lot of the music in the Prophesies suite, so it should be a good fit.
We’re weighing two different options for re-releasing this music. One approach would involve us simply re-releasing the three albums with the new mixes and (in the case of Hermetic Science and Prophesies) with the different track listings. The second option would involve us releasing a two-CD set called The Hermetic Science Primer that contains the music from all three albums. If we do that, we’ll have to drop three cover tunes from the first album and “Mars” from En Route so that all our original compositions will fit on the two CDs. I believe if we do decide to release the music of our three albums on one two-CD set, it will demonstrate what I’ve asserted all along: between 1997 and 2001 nobody released a more cutting-edge, original, and important body of progressive music than Hermetic Science.
Is En Route your most ambitious album?
From the point of view of orchestrations and arrangement, yes. On our first two albums, we were essentially a chamber prog band; with En Route, we became a full-throttle electronic prog band. It was only with the final three tracks of the album, recorded in 2001, that I arrived at an approach to keyboard orchestration that I was totally happy with. From the point of view of large-scale structure, Prophesies may have been even more ambitious than En Route, since the different tracks of the Prophesies suite are more tightly interconnected on a musical level than the tracks of En Route. I still believe our first album is our most original, and one of the landmarks of nineties prog. It staked out a totally original sound, and, had it received more support, could have spawned an entirely new subgenre of acoustic prog.
On what is the album En Route based?
Conceptually, the seven movements of the En Route suite musically depict the narrative of three novels by Frenchman J. K. Huysmans—A Rebours (1884), La-Bas (1891), and En Route (1894). These three novels are almost like one continuous story, depicting the gradual moral dissolution, and finally the spiritual rebirth, of an individual, and seemed to invite the heroic “darkness-to-light” musical journey in a prog context that we attempt to project on the En Route album.
How would you define the sound of the band?
When a lot of people think of Hermetic Science, they think of mallet percussion—the vibes and the marimba. There’s no question that the vibes and marimba will always be a defining characteristic of the Hermetic Science sound. At the risk of sounding arrogant, nobody else in the history of prog—nobody else in the history of rock, for that matter—has eve managed to create vibes parts that were texturally fully enough to make the vibes power trio format we used on much of our first album a viable proposition. However, I believe that our music that features a keyboard trio format is just as distinctive as our vibes-based music, and sounds like the product of the same band. What’s most distinctive about the music of Hermetic Science, no matter if the lead instrument is vibes or keyboards, is how we’ve brought together elements of prog, ECM jazz, twentieth-century classical music, renaissance and baroque music, and Middle Eastern music into a coherent and immediately recognizable sound. The unique sound of our music is a result of our distinctive approach to counterpoint, modality, and polyrhythms. Another hallmark of the Hermetic Science sound is that the bass guitar is frequently used as a second lead instrument.
What bands of today are aligned with Hermetic Science?
I don’t see our music being very closely aligned with the music of any other band, either inside or outside of the contemporary prog movement. To me, 95% of the contemporary prog albums sound just the same as each other or as classic prog of the past, and frankly there’s not a lot happening in contemporary prog that interests me very much. I think the prog revival of the nineties did produce some really good music, but in the last four or five years the contemporary prog movements seems to be losing its energy and its focus. In fact, the only rock music of today that interests me at all is the “drone-rock” of Iceland’s Sigur Ros, which I find very atmospheric and evocative.
Have you thought about making a new conceptual work in the future?
While I’ll never say never, at this point there is no full-length Hermetic Science album planned. In fact, there is no new recording activity planned, except for the sixteen-minute piece we hope to record this summer and place as a bonus track on Prophesies, when the album is re-released.
Have you presented the material on your concept albums like the soundtrack for a film?
This is an interesting question. To answer it: no, normally the music on our concept albums is not presented like the soundtrack to an imaginary film, where the major events of the film are depicted step-by-step in the music. One exception may be “La-Bas” from the En Route album, which does attempt to more or less musically depict the major events of the novel in a step-by-step sequence: you can almost hear the Black Mass episode that brings the novel to its climax at the end of the track. More often, though, I try to evoke the atmosphere or the ambience of the story or novel that one of my pieces is based on, rather than write an imaginary film soundtrack.
Do you make live presentations habitually?
Between early 1996 and mid 2000, we played over twenty live performances, all of them in northern California. We quit playing live in 2000, and I really don’t foresee any circumstances in the foreseeable future under which we would want to play live again. We started out doing a mixture of jazz and our original prog compositions in our live performances, and that went down pretty well with local audiences. However, as we played more of our original prog music and less jazz, local audiences began to lose interest in us. I had hoped we might receive invitations to play at some of the prog festivals, but we never did: the people who run the prog festivals simply invite the same bands, who play the same music, time and time again. At some point during the year 2000 I made the decision that there’s only so much time in life, and, given the lack of interest in Hermetic Science’s live performances among both local audiences and the worldwide prog festival network, keeping the band going as a performing ensemble simply wasn’t worth the huge investment of time we were making. Since then, we’ve been a recording project only.
We do have a number of bootleg and semi-bootleg tapes of our live shows. Once we’re done with the remixing project of our three studio albums, we are definitely going to release a live album that shows what we were capable of doing in a live setting. I think a lot of people will be surprised.
Are the ideas that feature in your albums totally Ed Macan’s?
I’ve always been the one that sets the musical direction of the band, both as the main composer and the lead instrumentalist, and I’m also responsible for the concepts underlying Prophesies and En Route. That being said, the other bandmembers have always had a say in arrangement matters, and I always solicit their advice when we’re mixing down an album—although, as they’ll be the first to say, I don’t always follow the advice they give me! Of course, on En Route Jason Hoopes co-composed two of the four movements of Against the Grain. To those who have said Hermetic Science isn’t a real band, that it’s just one man treating a group of musicians as if they’re sequencers, I say: “you don’t know what you’re talking about!” All you have to do is listen to the difference in the bass playing of Don Sweeney, And Durham, and Jason Hoopes, or the drumming of Mike Morris, Matt McClimon, and Joe Nagy, to hear that I’ve done everything I can to leave space for each musician to interject his own personality into Hermetic Science’s music—so long as it is done in a way that doesn’t distort the underlying fabric of the music. I suppose my role in Hermetic Science is similar to Robert Fripp’s in King Crimson, or Ian Anderson’s in Jethro Tull.
Do you have a message for the Argentine public?
From the time our first album was released in late 1997, Argentine prog music journals and websites have given us generous coverage, and I would like to publicly thank Argentine prog rock fans for their support. Until Argentina’s terrible economic meltdown in 2000, we had a very reliable distributor in Buenos Aires—a man who has been a true friend of this band—but he was so hard hit by the depression that he just couldn’t afford to import albums from the U.S. any more. It’s still my hope that we can find a way to revive direct distribution of our albums in Argentina—at least in Buenos Aires—in the future. Until then, rest assured we’re working hard to make Hermetic Science’s music available to Argentine prog fans as reasonably and conveniently as possible.