The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that set it in motion are more than a year and half old this month. Ongoing cleanup efforts, which include removing contaminated debris and preventing further radioactive water from seeping into the ocean, will likely cost $15 billion over the next 30 years. As Otomo Yoshihide explained in his April, 2011 lecture, the residents of Fukushima face a difficult future, one made darker by the psychological and cultural impact the disaster has had. In response to that lecture, Presqu’île Records assembled this compilation, featuring superb contributions from the likes of John Tilbury, Greg Kelley, Michael Pisaro, Chris Abrahams, and Annette Krebs. Besides answering Otomo’s plea for a cultural response to the disaster, all funds raised from the sale of this 2CD set go to Japanese non-profit organizations.
Otomo Yoshihide’s April 28, 2011 lecture at the Tokyo University of the Arts is titled “The Role of Culture: After the Earthquake and Man-Made Disasters in Fukushima.” Delivered just one month after the Fukushima meltdown, it recounts and explains the fears and dejection such a disaster can cause, among them concerns about the presence of radioactive material found in Tokyo’s drinking water. But, much of the lecture focuses on the psychological and cultural impact felt by the people of the Fukushima prefecture. How, he asks, should musicians and artists respond to the disaster? What, if anything, can they do to help energize Fukushima so that the prefecture’s name doesn’t become a pejorative term (the way that Chernobyl did) and suffer the pangs of infamy? One answer, according to Otomo, is to find positive cultural associations for Fukushima. That’s where Presqu’île Records comes in.
Comprised of ten recordings spread across two CDs, Fukushima! lends its musical explorations to the prefecture’s name and, one hopes, responds effectively to Otomo’s call for positive associations with the region. It’s also a fund-raising effort, with all the proceeds going to non-profits in Japan. The featured artists come from all over the world: from California to Germany, the UK, and South Korea. But not even a single artist is from Fukushima, or Japan, which might seem strange except that Otomo’s lecture is partially motivated by how he hopes the world will perceive Fukushima in the future. This album, then, is a sign of solidarity from outside Japan.
Disc one begins with a monster 34 minute contribution from AMM’s John Tilbury. His performance of Dave Smith’s “Al contrario” is the longest performance on the CD by over ten minutes, and a curious choice for first song. Tilbury is undoubtedly one of the most talented pianists in the world, but Dave Smith’s composition, which feels clunky and a little straightforward compared to the other songs on this disc, does little to highlight his talents. Its repetitive structure, on the other hand, has a lulling effect that makes its duration less of a problem than it might otherwise be. It’s followed by two absolutely killer performances, and two of my favorites from the entire compilation: one by Magda Mayas, playing inside piano, and one by the quartet of Choi Joonyong, Joe Foster (of English, with Bonnie Jones), Hong Chulki, and Jin Sangtae, who all currently live in South Korea if I’m not mistaken. I’d not heard Magda play before hearing her contribution, “Foreign Grey,” but now I’m determined to find more. The tones, colors, textures, and variety of sounds she pulls from her piano are phenomenal, and the attention she gives to the volume and density of her piece makes it all the more hypnotizing. The South Korean quartet provides “From Dotolim,” a tense and delicate piece that takes textures and material noises as its primary elements. It’s a varied, somewhat subdued performance that emphasizes space and slow development, but its unpredictably and playfulness have me wishing it would go on longer.
Fukushima!’s second monster contribution (this one 21 minutes long) comes from Greg Stuart, who performs Michael Pisaro’s “The Bell Maker” fromFour Pieces for Recorded Percussion (Il faut attendre). Mysteriously dedicated to both Andrei Tarkovsky and Julia Holter, this piece, composed of numerous, tiny bell-like sounds, flickers as though it were fixed in space, not moving so much as hovering. I enjoy it, but find myself returning more to Mark Wastell and Jonathan McHugh’s “Eventide.” It’s huge low-end and hum and oddly lulling rhythm get my attention every time. There’s something vaguely machine-like and lonely about it, and whether by accident or design, it gets me thinking about the power plant and how it must loom over the area. Annette Krebs, Chris Abrahams, Burkhard Beins, and Greg Kelley all contribute solid performances, but it’s the Australian/Norwegian trio of Mural that sticks out in my mind the most. “Fukushima for the Time Being” is unlike anything else on the compilation, actually. It features Japanese flute, gongs, bells, possibly motorized strings and bowed metal, plucked strings, and numerous other sound sources I can’t readily identify blended into a ritualized improvisation with a little theatrical flair. Thanks to the melody provided by the flute, and some regularly recurring patterns, I’m convinced that this piece is a bit more composed than the others, so it sticks out among the other pieces and breaks the second disc’s flow up a little bit. I think it’s a great change of pace, though, and a definite highlight.
More than just a compilation for a good cause, Fukushima! is an excellent collection filled with beautiful music. The variety of talents present almost guarantees that listeners will be introduced something new, too, which is one of the best things any compilation can do.