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 use.
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.
ED MACAN’S HERMETIC SCIENCE (Magnetic Oblivion, 1997)
This debut album was created in two recording sessions and two distinct formations. The major part was recorded in 1996, with Macan in charge of vibraphone, marimba, and other percussion instruments, Donald Sweeney on bass and Michael Morris on drums and additional percussion, while “Esau’s Burden” and “Fanfare for the House of Panorama” augment Macan with Andy Durham on bass and Joe Nagy on drums and additional percussion.
Ed Macan’s Hermetic Science already shows the most characteristic features of the band’s style within the first few second of “Esau’s Burden,” the opening track. In the trio format, the vibraphone establishes itself as the dominant element, backed by an agile rhythm section with no guitar and compositions halfway between twentieth century classical music and rock. The sensation of the music of Hermetic Science is tremendously atemporal and creates a dreamy ambience, like an Eastern European fairy tale: all the more surprising coming from a North American musician. “Fire Over Thule,” by the lineup of ’96, displays an overwhelming technical mastery on the part of Macan, converting the bare instrumentation of this proposed vibraphone-bass-drums power trio lineup into an elegant success, replete with a myriad of details, which invite the most intense absorption and concentration.
The Sungazer, an eleven minute track, introduces a greater variety of instruments (marimba, piano, tubular bells, glockenspiel, triangles, gongs all appear). Divided in three parts, it remains completely faithful to the stylistic direction of this project. Its central section, “The Cathedral of Trees” (a precious title), is like a miniature, a tiny nucleus which one approaches closer and closer to under the microscope until the final explosion of jubilation which is “Into the Light.” After this suite, a medley ties together for us a version of Curved Air’s “Cheetah” and Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Infinite Space,” an obvious choice given Macan’s natural inclination to experiment with classic instrumentals.
“Fanfare for the House of Panorama” is a track surrounded by mystery, initiating an ongoing series of compositions (see the intriguing explanation that Macan gives in the interview [accessible elsewhere on this web page]). The finale consists of another characteristic original track, “Trisagion,” and a version of Holst’s “Mars,” which has never ceased to be the antecedent par excellence for the soundtracks of hundreds of science fiction films. A dazzling debut that moves against the grain.
(****. Toni Roig)