Hermetic Science is a band that is practically unknown in our
country, but without doubt we are dealing here with one of the most original,
musically brilliant, and unclassifiable propositions of recent times. It is not a question of an easily
digestible tidbit, but there are unquestionable benefits in us being introduced
to them. Read the instructions for
This American band articulates itself around the figure of Edward
Macan: music theorist, critic,
percussionist and writer, he is one of the world’s foremost authorities on
progressive rock. He is professor
at the College of the Redwoods, Eureka, California, and he is author of the
seminal Rocking the Classics, which
has been discussed in our publication on diverse occasions. Actually he is now completing a book
about Emerson, Lake and Palmer, which promises much.
Formed in 1995, Hermetic Science is in fact an experimental “power
trio” in which Macan has resorted to using young talent from the College of the
Redwoods in order to mold a very personal music, based around the vibraphone
and marimba. As Macan himself puts
it, he seeks out young musicians of a high level of ability who still possess
the enthusiasm and open mind characteristic of young musicians.
The music of rock trios such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer (or also
Rush), classical music of the twentieth century, instrumental music of the
sixties, minimalism, jazz, rock in opposition, sacred music of the renaissance,
Arabic music, Indian classical music . . . are the principal ingredients of the
unique Hermetic Science sound.
More surprising is the band’s lack of adherence to any accepted
current. Macan is a guerilla and
although his music can be related directly with the breakthrough spirit of the
counterculture that was so ably conveyed in his book Rocking the Classics, it belongs to its own place and time. The difficulty is knowing what place
and what time.
PROPHESIES (Magnetic Oblivion, 1999)
This second and recent album is able to stand as a logical
continuation of its predecessor, while introducing some new elements of
diversification (incorporation of analog keyboards, especially the Hammond
organ and Micromoog). But above
all it represents an authentic act of love towards classic symphonic rock
filtered though Macan’s highly individual personality.
The disc opens in a surprising manner (at least in appearance)
with a cover by Rush, specifically “Jacob’s Ladder.” Well conceived, the long instrumental sections of this track
off Permanent Waves (1980) are
perfectly compatible with Macan’s personal style. In fact, Hermetic Science engages in an operation similar to
that practiced by the Canadians throughout their career: Macan expresses a multitude of received
influences in his own terms. As
you can imagine, the task of unraveling these influences is very difficult and
a number of hearings are necessary in order to appreciate all his
interests. The version is
extremely respectful of the original structure, although the unmistakable
vibraphone of Macan totally transforms it, with somewhat forced moments alternating
with simply sublime ones.
“Intrigue in the House of Panorama” is a brilliant homage to the
typically sixties soundtracks (the bass line, without getting too far out,
recalls the principal theme of the camp but charming Batman television
series). One of the more
accessible examples with which to become acquainted with the band’s style and
also, for that matter, one of the more amusing.
That which follows in continuation is the main course of the disc,
Prophesies, a suite informed by its
more classical direction. Prophesies is the sublimation of the Hermetic Science
style: austere, disconcerting, and
fascinating at the same time.
“Barbarians at the Gate” works as a regal introduction which surprises
us all the more by continuing into “Hope Against Hope,” a deceptively simple
and decisively unclassifiable, almost na�ve track based around the flute and
keyboards. “Last Stand” returns us
to the characteristic style of Hermetic Science, moreover permitting the
drumming to stand out. “Leviathan
and Behemoth” is the other experimental epic, an obscure and daring track (the
Hammond becomes increasingly disquieting and its jazzy central section is
magnificent). The grand piano
(Steinway, of course) comes to bear an increasingly specific burden in a markedly
experimental whole. The Prophesies suite terminates grandly,
with organ, piano, marimba, vibraphone, and keyboards in a grave but optimistic
finale with a deliciously “retro” air.
The disc closes with a complete version of Tarkus for piano, arranged by Macan as a solo and recorded
directly, without retakes, in 1992.
It is treated as a bonus track, independent of the rest of the Prophesies album, but is perfectly
coherent with all the risks that preceded it. For those who love this classic by ELP, suffice it to say
that his interpretation is a joy of which even Emerson could be proud.
A radical proposition, valiant and decisively different, by a
musician who is also one of the most knowledgeable experts of the history and
roots of our favorite music. This
is well worth the exploration. (****. Toni Roig)