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Extended Analysis

Various Artists: Fukushima!

By Published: May 20, 2012
Various Artists


Presqu'ile Records


Okay, please sit up and pay close attention. This is an album that you really should not ignore. Fukushima! is a double CD consisting of ten tracks by renowned improvising musicians from across the globe—almost two hours of music altogether.

All proceeds from its sales will go straight to non-profit organisations assisting victims of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and its aftermath.

The keen-eyed amongst you will probably have spotted that the album title is also the name of the nuclear power plant that suffered meltdown after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami; the resulting radiation led to everyone in a twelve-mile radius of Fukushima being evacuated. Yes, those people need all the help we can give them, just as the refugees from New Orleans did after Katrina.

So, this is obviously in aid of a very good cause, but what about the music? Well, a casual glance at the names of the musicians on the album will reveal the quality on offer here. The first CD opens with a gem, a thirty-four minute recording of John Tilbury performing Dave Smith's 1991-2 composition "Al Contrario" solo on piano. In typical fashion (think of his performances of Morton Feldman) Tilbury does not rush the piece, allowing plenty of time for each phrase to resound before pressing on; he invests Smith's theme with due gravitas and majesty in a stirring performance. We are then onto a solo piano piece that is in complete contrast but just as welcome, "Foreign Grey" by Annette Krebs, Anthea Caddy, Magda Mayas. While Mayas always impresses in duos or trios, she is arguably at her best solo, as she demonstrates here; extracting her usual broad range of sounds from the piano—including scraping the frame, playing inside and exciting the strings with wire—she builds up a rich, complex soundscape full of contrasts, and even manages to conduct dialogues with herself. In another contrast, the first disc is rounded off nicely by "From Dotolim," an extended improvisation from the quartet of Choi Joonyong, Joe Foster, Hong Chulki and Jin Sangtae playing a selection of sounds and noises; the four gel and complement each other well, allowing enough space for each player to be heard and appreciated to the full.

"Counter," a solo piece by Burkhard Beins opens the second CD; fittingly for this album, employing analogue synthesisers, he creates sounds that are chillingly reminiscent of a Geiger counter registering various forms of radiation. Next up, Beins' frequent collaborator, Mark Wastell, playing bowed tam tam, is heard in an enthralling duo with Jonathan McHugh. The longest track on the second CD is a performance by Greg Stuart of Michael Pisaro's composition "The Bell-Maker" from his Four Pieces for Recorded Percussion. Stuart's subtle and delicate combinations of percussion instruments, including glockenspiel and chimes, create a piece that radiates tranquillity and provides an oasis of calm in the album. Although its 21-minute duration means that "The Bell-Maker" dominates the second CD, all of the disc's other six tracks match it for quality. In fact, (although there is not space to describe them all) every track here is excellent.

You know the right thing to do, don't you?

Tracks: Al Contrario; Foreign Grey; From Dotolim; Counter; Eventide; Duo; Field recording of the anti-Wall Street demonstration in front of the Reichstag in Berlin; Fukushima for the Time Being; The Bell-Maker (from Four Pieces for Recorded Percussion); Cylindrical Mirror.

Personnel: John Tilbury: piano (1); Magda Mayas: piano (2); Choi Joonyong: CD players (3); Joe Foster: things and stuff (3); Hong Chulki: without turntables (3); Jin Sangtae: acoustic car horns (3); Burkhard Beins: analogue synthesizers, E.T., bowed chimes (4); Mark Wastell: Paiste 32" Tam Tam (5); Jonathan McHugh: Eventide H3000 (5); Annette Krebs: mixing-board-feedbacks, radio, amplified objects, e-guitar (6); Chris Abrahams: DX7 FM synth and Vermona Mono Lancet analog synth (6); Sabine Erklenz: trumpet (7); Chris Heenan: alto sax (7); Mike Majkowski: pitch pipes (7); Andrea Neumann: trumpet (7); Koen Nutters: bowed crotales (7); Morten Olsen: guitar (7); Jim Denley: flute (8); Kim Myhr: acoustic guitars, zithers and objects (8); Ingar Zach: gran cassa, percussion (8); Greg Stuart: glockenspiel, bar chimes, wood blocks (9); Greg Kelley: trumpet (10).

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