HERETIC is the brainchild of Kyoto synth/ keyboard player HIRO KAWAHARA. Working in a different way from the famous electronic musician ISAO TOMITA (1932-2016) whose interpretations of classical music sold many records during the 1970s, Kawahara took a more abstract approach, composing as he went along with the inventive electric guitarist TOHRU OHTA (who also played synths and utilised some electronic percussion) and TAKUROU MORIYAMA (cello). In 1985 an LP was released with one 34-minute+ piece (‘Interface Part 1 & 2’) that mixed ‘tape effects’ and ‘soundscapes’ with more conventional passages, with the guitar sounding very MIKE OLDFIELD- like (although in other places it could be very fractured à la ROBERT FRIPP). The music is very original and haunting in many ways, the only disappointment being the primitive drum machines. The second piece is entitled ‘El Rayo de Luna’ and is much shorter, cello and guitar taking the leads lines in a minimalistic atmospheric synth-based piece with an indecipherable voice in the background and the sound of rain – quite spooky. There are also orchestral and rehearsal versions of ‘Interface’ included.
On ESCAPE SEQUENCE (1988) Kawahara adds electric and synth guitar and electric violin to his keyboards and continues to apply ‘noises’, ‘tapes’ and ‘treatments’ to his music and the same basic line-up is retained with many other contributing including musicians from AIN SOPH and BELLAPHON. Real drums are also regularly deployed. ‘Do Heretick’ is a three-part piece based on Kawahara’s guitar/ chorus delay loop and is very suggestive of outer space, with a sense of alarm midway and an orchestral flourish at its conclusion. ‘Fail Safe Error’ reminded me tangentially of HOLST’s ‘Mars’ with the threat of nuclear attack as its theme; it was written by Tohru Ohta as an “alternative soundtrack for “Fail Safe”, a 1964 movie, with a busy bass synth line. some wild violin and a conclusion that sounds like some crazy ‘Space Invaders’ type of arcade shooting game, with insane, angular guitar. Hiro does say that some of the music is “a reply to King Crimson” (French progressive electronic musician HELDON is also mentioned as a reference point). ‘Anonymous (Bard’s Song)’ is a Heretic arranged version of a song by members of ANONYMOUS, a welcome piece of pastoralism. ‘Tripping on Waves’ was composed by AIN SOPH singer Yozok Yamamoto. There is also an original version of ‘Do Heretick’ and a session with Ain Soph drummer Taiqui Tomiie.
HERETIC (1984-88) has excerpts and different remasters from the first two albums. PAST IN FUTURE (1996) is a solo CD-R with two album length pieces, one of them live in the studio and a 16-minute bonus track with Peter Frohmader on bass. It is interesting to hear the demo versions of the excellent pieces ‘Yayoi Dream’ and ‘Drugging for M’. It a remarkable piece of work recorded directly onto DAT performed on computers (although the organic quality of the music is retained), tuned percussion, gong, bouzouki (a marvellous sequence at the end of track one in particular), various vogue synthesisers of the time, guitar synth and electric guitar. In a feature by Peter Thelen of Exposé magazine, a comparison was made with the music of RICHARD PINHAS (confirmed by Kawahara in an interview with the www.eurock.com site – see below) with perfect analogies to “dreamlike sequences”, “subconscious realms” and listening being like travelling through many different doors. The second piece is more uniform, the ‘wind and wave’ of the synths punctuated by flowing guitar lines, with a bass synth ‘riff’ near its conclusion – I did find the ending a bit disorientating though!
YAYOI DREAM (1996) has one album length track and here we hear the definitive remaster of the track, Kawahara performing it with Tohru Ohta on synthesisers and bouzouki and Robbin Lloyd on electric percussion (no guitar). The music is very beautiful (a series of varied vignettes in a sense, the whole more than the sum of the parts!) and one of Hiro’s best, I think, as much evocative and melodic as it is experimental. DRUGGING FOR M (1997) again has one album length track in a duo recording with Robbin Lloyd. Hiro expands his bag of tricks to include theremin and the electric guitar is back. In keeping with the changing times, a Chapman stick is also deployed. This is another very strong release, different to its predecessor, with a greater intensity perhaps.
REQUIEM (2022) is a compilation of different versions of the early days of Heretic’s music with a new 20-minute piece ‘Spiral 1999’, a 22-minute version of ‘El Rayo de Luna’, short edited versions of ‘Yayoi Dream’ and ‘Drugging for M’ and snippets from Kawahara’s first projects Osiris (who released a cassette in 1979) and Astra Tempel. (There was also a band called Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde that Hiro formed with Yozok Yamamoto of the progressive rock band AIN SOPH). It has a different track order from the 2010 CD version and 14 added tracks. The album was dedicated to the “lost souls” of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown and Archie Patterson of www.eurock.com aptly describes the “Requiem” as a “musical prayer” for “light” to emerge from “the darkness”.
By now I was looking forward to hearing HERETIC LIVE (2023). The first recording was in Kyoto at Ritsumeikan University on 4th November, 1985, a 66-minute piece that develops ‘Do Heretick’ with featuring, in order, Robbin Lloyd on acoustic percussion and shakuhachi (plenty going on in the background of course!); Toruh Ohta joining in on electric guitar in earnest after the music approaches the 30-minute mark; thereafter, Hiro plays a significant role on guitar-synth, violin, electric guitar and samples/ loops. There is also a live recording from Tokyo from 19th March, 1988 (28+ minutes) and the rehearsal was also recorded and included here. (There was also a bass player at the Tokyo performance).
“Complete Works” is a total of 62 tracks totalling 13 hours 36 minutes and 27 seconds. Finally, there is some history to relate from Hiro’s friend Archie Patterson of www.eurock.com where he relates that Heretic was an “early pioneer of a new form of Zen electronic music that combined mystical and spiritual influences with experimental electronic music.” In an interview with Archie Hiro reveals that JEFF BECK was an early influence on his guitar playing while MANUEL GOETTSCHING, especially the piece ‘Sunrain’ was a big influence on the progressive electronic direction of his music.