GEMATRIA “The Power of 74”
By Dr. Abner Mality
It’s all in the numbers. The wise men of the past knew this secret long before calculators and computers were ever invented (Although they may have been around a lot longer than we think...look up the Antikythera Mechanism!). Everything can be reduced to mathematics and understood in those terms. That includes music.
The ancient Hebrrew scholars came up with an amazing method to translate words into numbers and then divine the mystical meaning of those numbers. It was called “gematria”. You can read more about this clever and esoteric art HERE and even perform your gematric operations. The word “gematria” itself can be translated to 74...hence the title of this little piece.
I doubt if even the most forward-thinking of the ancient Hebrews could have imagined that their mystic science would one day lend its name to a band of 21st century progressive metal rockers. But that’s exactly what we have with GEMATRIA, an ingenious duo who use the old process to come up with some wild and unpredictable music. That music you can hear on their debut full-length “Gematria II: The Spindle of Necessity”.
I was utterly fascinated by the record and the way it was put together. So it made sense forr me to speak to these two “musical numerologists”. Here is the enlightening result...
WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Greetings to GEMATRIA! I must say, this is one of the most unique instrumental bands I’ve ever encountered. Regarding your formation, was it something that took a lot of time to incubate or did inspiration strike like a bolt out of the blue?
RAY SUHY: Thank you for the kind words. Steve and I met teaching music together in a local music school and quickly realized we were interested in a lot of the same things musically. We talked about getting something together for a while and then Steve handed me the tracks on our first EP and asked me to lay down guitar over them. Gematria was formed at that moment.
STEVE HONOSHOWSKY: Yes. I was already a fan of Ray before we worked together so I was formerly inspired.
WC: Gematria (the process) is very mathematical in nature. Were either of you “math heads” or numerologists before putting the band together?
RS: I’ve always loved numbers and math. When I started playing music, it became apparent to me how much of music is math based or related to series of numbers and patterns. You can get music inspiration from any set of numbers if you dig deep enough. This is especially true with rhythms.
SH: From kindergarten to grade 12, I was determined a classified student from the public school’s board of education and was possibly misdiagnosed with dyscalculia among other things. I wasn’t very good at math at all, and was even pulled out of music classes because they didn’t believe I could comprehend basic theory… Now I’m a music educator.
WC: A lot of people probably look at gematria as just a fun way to play around with words and numbers, but it’s a very spiritual process. Does that come across in your music? Did investigating the process of gematria lead to any changes in your thinking or spirituality?
SH: The process of Gematria definitely changes your thinking and perspective as a result from exploring what is unpredictable and finding what is unfamiliar. It’s safe to say that the process delivers a deeper meaning to things.
WC: One thing that really struck me about “The Spindle of Necessity” is that all of the songs have a very different sound and character. That’s really hard to when there’s no vocals. How important was it to give each tune it’s own personality?
RS: That’s extremely important to me. I want the album to feel complete as a whole but I want each song to have its own identity and character. To do this I’ll compose in different keys and scales to set the songs apart.
We also composed these songs differently to get that variety. “Spindle of Necessity” was written in the room together. For “Unconquered Sun” and “By Its Own Nature”, Steve went into the studio first and recorded the songs as drum compositions, when I then in turn composed music too. I really love the way those came out. On “The Elusive One” and “Reunion in Daylight”, these were written the way our first EP was written. Steve handed me some tracks and I composed guitar parts over them. This variety of methods really helped to push us out of our comfort zones.”
WC: Another thing I noticed is that the music has a kind of “playful” quality. When you think of instrumental music constructed mathematically, that’s not the first word that usually comes to mind. Usually such music is described as “angular” and “mechanical”. Your tunes have a much more “human” quality, I think, or am I misreading it?
RS: This is also extremely important to me. Music is expression first and foremost. It can express playfulness, anger, confusion, beauty, the longing for the divine or the longing for some really good pizza, haha. If the music lacks expression and humanity, I’m not really into it.
Musically speaking we tried to keep that humanity in there by avoiding editing, quantizing and making things perfect as much as possible. Some things were tweaked here and there but it’s important to not make things robotic and completey perfect.
WC: Without going into extreme detail, how you do use the process of gematria to create a song?
SH: The catalyst for the process of gematria can start with just thinking about, meditating on, being inspired by, or randomly stumbling upon a number, equation, word, sound, melody, rhythm, time signature, interval, shape, symbol, BPM, harmonic relation, etc. Anything and everything that corresponds to a number or letter or vice versa. The composition of the song almost always presents itself when all of the correspondences have been uncovered.”
WC: I’m sure the names of the songs are created with care and each name has some sort of numerical significance. I used one of those online gematria calculators....”The Spindle of Necessity” worked out to 252 in English, “Unconquered Sun” was 191, so forth. Is the numerical translation of the names important or am I again putting too much into it?
SH: The numerical translation of the names is very important because the names correspond to the composition.
Steve H. at work...
WC: You put out a 5 song EP in 2018. How much growth has there been in GEMATRIA between then and the new full length?
RS: The first EP was a great first step into our collaboration. With this new record we explored some different musical territory while keeping some of the elements of that first recording.
WC: KING CRIMSON is a name that comes to mind as an influence to GEMATRIA, but what are some other, maybe lesser-known bands and musicians you draw inspiration from?
RS: We absolutely love KING CRIMSON! They’re eternally inspiring! On this material, I draw on the influence of Bill Laswell’s projects from the 90’s like PRAXIS (with Buckethead) and ARCANA quite a bit. I love the eclectic nature of that material.
WC: Was there one particular song on “Gematria II” that was maybe difficult to write and play?
RS: The writing and recording went incredibly smooth. Sometimes it felt like it was just happening. That being said, the ending of “Aletheia” is one of the hardest things I’ve written. It’s a string skipping arpeggiated sequence based on the intro chord progression and it gave me fits, haha.
SH: For me, they’re all difficult to play.
WC: Is there one song on the album that you would say sums up the band’s approach the rest?
RS: That’s a tough one because there are a lot of directions that we go in. “Spindle of Necessity” and “Reunion In Daylight” together give a good over view of what we do.
WC: Has GEMATRIA ever played live or are they a studio-only project?
RS: We played a couple of shows in 2018 when our first EP came out and we are ramping up now to do some shows to celebrate this release. We’ve added a bass player for the live shows, our good friend Rolando Alvarado of EL DRUGSTORE.
WC: The press states you’re influenced by Crowley and Austin Osman Spare. What works of theirs are particularly important to you?
SH: In regards to Crowley, I’m often referencing his books when I’m working on something. “Book 4”, “Gems of the Equinox” and “777” are wealths of information.”
RS: “The Book of Pleasure” by Austin Osman Spare is a big one for me. If you check it out, hunt down a version with artwork included. Text only versions of the book don’t come across right. This book lays out his philosophy and method of sigilization. I’ve had some fun adapting his methods to musical composition.
WC: If you could have dinner with any 3 people in history, who would they be?
SH: Mick Karn, Robert Anton Wilson and Neil Peart
RS: John Coltrane, Austin Osman Spare and Jimi Hendrix.
WC: You guys are also involved in some other bands and projects. Tell us what else you’re involved with?
SH: I play bass, synths and some vocals and percussion in an electrogoth band called DAUGHTER VISION. Other projects include MALL DATE, Santa Maria Community College, STEPHEN H. CHRIST and GOLD FIERO.
RS: I play in the death metal band SIX FEET UNDER and also have a jazz quartet, the RAY SUHY / LEWIS PORTER QUARTET.
WC: Any last words for the curious?
RS: Stay tuned for more from us. We hope to play as many shows as possible and we’ll be releasing more material hopefully as soon as next year.