Natural Science: Background

“This is epic Rush. Life in a tidal pool is likened to our own little world in the big universe. The quantum leap forward seems inspired by the transitional evolution scene in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Like the synthesis or balance in ‘Cygnus,’ art needs to be balanced with science.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

The piece discusses “the balance between the natural and the synthetic world and how integrity of purpose could allow us to reach an equilibrium between control and understanding through science.”—David Bradley, Sciencebase

“Obviously the original relationship between man and nature was that he had to tame it in order to survive, and that became more and more sophisticated and out of hand, and finally it just became destruction. It’s become the same thing with science, where people don’t understand it, and are afraid of it. They think you have to eradicate science to control it. (Jim Ladd Innerview) There is no doubt that working under pressure can be rewarding, as we have found many times in the studio. It seems as if the creative mind slips into a burst of overdrive, allowing a brief, exhausting, but productive surge in the creative process. On the third day of my confinement this phenomenon arrived at last, and something new began to take shape. It was the product of a whole host of unconnected experiences, books, images, thoughts, feelings, observations, and confirmed principles, that somehow took the form of ‘Natural Science.'” (Personal Waves)—Neil in Merely Players

“Once we had the guitar track down, we stuck a speaker cabinet outside—this was up at the studio in Morin Heights, Quebec—and we recorded the natural echo off the mountains in combination with the sound of splashing water and Geddy’s voice. We didn’t use any sort of synthetic echo on the water track.” (Guitar Player, 1980)—Alex in Merely Players

To get the tide pool sound, Neil and Alex “splashed oars in the lake with shivering hands,” Neil says in the Permanent waves tourbook.

“This is one of my favorite songs. It kind of went away in our live show for many years, and when we brought it back, we changed the arrangement a bit. There were things in the arrangement that were a little shortchanged in the original song. Like in the second part, [where we say] ‘Wheels within wheels.’ It’s not a traditional song; there’s no real verse/chorus/verse/chorus, but there are certain melodies like that that I felt deserved to appear more than they did. I thought [making that change] would give the song more resonance. So, we did those things, and the last section of the song is made shorter than it was in the original version. I felt we had kind of overdone it on the record. So, sometimes there’s that opportunity to fix a mistake or an arrangement. I think that our current version live is the best we’ve ever played it.”—Geddy in Contents Under Pressure

The piece wasn’t originally planned for the album and it took the longest of all of the songs to come together. Brian Harrigan says in his 1984 book Rush, the band had “finished doing the demos for everything on the album except one track. They had moved from Lakewoods Farm to Le Studio in Montreal to begin recording in earnest, but there was still that gap. For a while it looked as though something Neil had been working on, based on the medieval epic ‘Sir Gawain & the Green Knight’ might fill the gap, but it wasn’t to be. ‘It became too out of place with the album’s other material,” explained Neil, ‘so the project was shelved. But this did leave us with a gaping hole in the LP’s plan. So while Alex and Geddy worked on overdubs I secluded myself to try to write something. For two days I stared in frustration at blank sheets of paper but on the third day something began to take shape, eventually taking the form of “Natural Science,” the album’s concluding track.'”

Although “Sir Gawain & the Green Knight” had been scrapped, parts of it were repurposed for “Natural Science,” as Neil writes in Personal Waves, the Permanent Waves tourbook: “In Le Studio, ‘Natural Science’ was becoming a song, forged from some bits from ‘Gawain,’ some instrumental ideas that were still unused, and some parts newly written.”

The website PopMatters selected the piece as the 10th most important prog rock piece of all time (“In the Court of the Crimson King” by King Crimson is the first):

“If 2112 is the album Rush had to make, Permanent Waves is the work that paved the way for a new decade and the next (most successful) phase of their career. The centerpiece of the album is the sixth and final song, ‘Natural Science:’ it does not grab you by the ear the way ‘2112’ does and it does not have the immediate, irresistible appeal of ‘Tom Sawyer,’ but it’s, quite possibly, the band’s most perfect achievement. Neil Peart’s lyrics, which tackle ecology, commercialism, and artistic integrity (without being pretentious or self-righteous) are, in hindsight, not merely an end-of-decade statement of purpose but a presciently fin-de-siecle assessment that still, amazingly, functions as both indictment and appeal. ‘Natural Science’ endures as the last document before Moving Picturestriangulated math rock, prog rock, and the fertile new soil of synth-based popular music and did the inconceivable, making Rush a household name.”—Sean Murphy, PopMatters, May 2011

More about “Natural Science”

Two “Natural Science” tribute versions.

Back to Rush Vault

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~ by rvkeeper on January 11, 2011.

 
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