BIG BANG (France), February 1999, pp. 21-22


In the space of two years, the name of Edward Macan has become inescapable in the milieu of progressive rock. This 37-year old American professor of music at the College of the Redwoods (northern California) initially made himself known as author of the first scholarly work dedicated to progressive rock-Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture-since then as musician and leader of the Hermetic Science trio, whose debut album of 1997 is soon to be followed by a successor. These two reasons suffice to make more ample acquaintance with a personality who is at once an actor and observer of the little world of progressive music . . .


The brief author's bio appearing on the back of Rocking the Classics apprises us that Ed Macan is not only a professor of music, but also a vibraphonist and pianist, and that at the time of the book's publication he was preparing to release a debut CD. In November 1997, this was accomplished with the appearance, through the Magnetic Oblivion label, of Hermetic Science, the name of a trio formed two years earlier by Macan, in collaboration with students from his college (different bassists and drummers succeed each other during the course of their college years).


The principal originality of the enterprise is the utilization of the melodic percussion-vibraphone and marimba-as the only polyphonic instruments, with the exception of two pieces which also utilize piano. This is a choice which raises a challenge, considering the rich sonorities generally associated with the progressive genre. Macan artfully evades this constant risk of austerity by artfully exploiting in an optimal manner the limited means at his disposal: in developing a unique approach to playing the instruments (with four mallets), and in emancipating the rhythm section, as much as possible, from its traditional function of accompaniment in order to make it a full participant in the progression of the pieces.


A didactic concern is evident, in particular when Macan attempts, brilliantly moreover, to adopt pieces by Curved Air ("Cheetah"), ELP ("Infinite Space"), and Gustav Holst ("Mars, the Bringer of War," also known to fans of King Crimson under the title of "The Devil's Triangle"). One senses he desires to demonstrate his theory, which says in substance that progressive music should not inevitably equate with self-indulgence or overstatement. Beyond, on the one hand, an "exercise of style" which he does not always succeed in avoiding, his demonstration is rather convincing.


For the second opus of Hermetic Science, Ed Macan has chosen a different approach. Prophesies is in effect centered upon an original piece of the same name, 42 minutes in duration, which successively features mallet percussion, keyboards (piano, organ, analog synths), and . . . recorder! This more varied instrumentation, as well as the architecture of the composition, at once renders this album more accessible than its predecessor. At the same time, the foundation of the trio's music is not really disrupted.


This impression obviously results in part from the episodes featuring new instrumental combinations placed amongst the vibraphone-bass-drums sections. But the unity of the ensemble results above all from the discretion of the instrumentalists' playing and from the care given to the arrangements, a constant factor whatever the instrumentation might be. Prophesies is more typically progressive, and has a greater variety of sonorities, than the trio's debut CD, but still remains impervious to the excesses and self-indulgence characteristic of rock. The refusal to use any effects on the instruments (which was however the principal source of contrast for the great progressive trios, from early ELP to the Soft Machine of Volume Two), leads the trio to base all the progression of their discourse upon the single expressive force of the compositions. It is a bold attempt which ends up paying off thanks to the evident care brought to the working out of the arrangements, the subtlety of which is far from being apparent in the first hearing.


It is necessary to clarify that Prophesies will not be released until the spring of 1999. It has not yet in effect been decided what the CD will contain other than the title suite. Macan is trying to decide between a new piece, eighteen minutes long, for solo marimba (Triptych), a version of ELP's Tarkus for solo piano, a couple of newly-recorded short tracks by the group, or a combination of the above.


Aymeric Leroy


[Big Bang's February, 1999 interview with Ed Macan can be found in its original, untranslated form elsewhere on this Web Page . . .]





BIG BANG (France), December 1999, p. 36



With the recent release of the second album, Prophesies, by Edward Macan's group Hermetic Science, it remains to slightly rectify the analysis of Big Bang no. 29, which was based upon an unfinished version of the CD that is finally submitted to us. There is nothing to update concerning the 41 minute title suite, which remains as it was and still constitutes the CD's piece de resistance. On the other hand, two new pieces (recorded this past May) have been added: a surprisingly fresh cover of Rush's "Jacob's Ladder," and an original composition by Macan, "Intrigue in the House of Panorama." Otherwise, as he had told us, the percussionist-keyboardist included as a bonus track his version for solo piano of the Tarkus suite by ELP (a group about which Macan is currently writing a book, it might be said in passing). This track, nearly 19 minutes long (like the original) is, in a word, rather astounding. It would have been difficult to imagine beforehand that the subtleties of the original arrangement for three instruments, with the diverse keyboards of Emerson, could be re-created on solo piano. The result is a fine homage to this instrument and a new proof of the great talent of Edward Macan. In short, a CD to discover without delay!


Aymeric Leroy