VA – Fukushima! Artists answer the call for beauty. (Music Review) Disc One

In Otomo Yoshihide’s beautiful lecture (you can read it here) entitled The Role of Culture: After the Earthquake and man made disasters in Fukushima, he makes a compelling case for the positive role of culture in combating human fear and limiting belief when combating the challenges of the day. This beautiful double disc set is the answer to that call. The example he cites is the town of Fukushima, affected by the earthquake and then by the leakages of a nuclear power plant there. Otomo’s fear is that Fukushima will inherit the same devastating symbolism attached to its name that Chernobyl has attached to its name. He worries that all the beauty of the region will be lost under the umbrella of a fear that is worthy and prevalent, but obliterating in its devastating coverage. History can be wiped out, art can be wiped out; even people’s hearts can be lost to the fear and prevalence of a disaster that threatens the town.

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It is a beautiful lecture (worth the five minutes of reading if you have the time) and it brought to mind Hiroshima mon Amour, a film I watched recently by Alain Resnais, which uses the name of a town to examine the role of memory and forgetting. Resnais does not want us to forget Hiroshima and the terrible events that have become synonymous with the name of the place. And yet, by reducing the size of the disaster to a name, we manage to remove ourselves from the immediacy of the problem, its consequences and causes.  It occurred to me, that by making an appeal to artists to take responsibility for the preservation of the beauty of the place, something similar occurs in that we do not forget the “problems” just as we do not forget that the town is more than the sum of its recent headlines.

Entitled Fukushima after the region, Presqu’ile Records answered this call by Otomo, with the extraordinarily beautiful double disc set by various artists, as well as a stunning on-line download package that includes video of the original speech that inspired the discs. I have the lovely double disc set and play it regularly.

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Disc one starts with a long, intricate and detailed composition by British composer Dave Smith performed by John Tilbury. The piece is initially deceptively simple, measured and patient, hardly showing off the great player that Tilbury is. However many listens later I found myself feeling the rumblings of the people’s hearts that are described as bleeding i the lovely essay by Otomo. The almost inert rumblings of the composition and its chilling undercurrent spoke to me of all that lies beneath – that which we are trying to avoid, forget, remember and remove. And yet Tilbury invests the piece with so much emotion through its quiet pacing that tendrils of finger-tips can cross oceans on its waves. A subtle piece, despite its length, the beauty and the depth of each note carry the weight of all Tilbury’s interpretative talents.

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Track two on the first is a lovely solo performance by Magda Mayas performed on the piano, in complete contrast to the previous work. The sounds that come from the instrument seem to be anything other than a piano, as she slides, swirls and communicates with herself through the sounds. The piece is entitled Foreign Grey and evokes the possibility the previous track implied. Sounds here are immersive and constructive, alive with the thrill of the improbably. At times I felt as though I were on a warf watching “progress” occur before me, as the industrial rings through into the mercurial sounds of an instrument expanded. Music of this nature, with its transgressive freedom and its intimate expansive nature is always beautiful to me, but this piece seemed pregnant with hope and miles from the disaster that threatens to own Fukushima.

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The third track on disc one is the beautiful quartet made up of Choi Joonyong, Joe Foster, Hong Chulki and Jin Sangtae, a trio based in Korea (at the time I understand) who have a rather playful and light response to the call of the cultural in this instant. It’s an improv session where each of the musicians work well together no sound being sacrificed for any other. It’s the most joyful track on the first disc and if track two implied hope, then track three implies happiness.

I’ll take a good look at track two tomorrow.

You can get copies of Fukushima here.

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