IMA ~ The Flowers Die in Burning Fire

In one corner, Japanese percussionist Nava Dunkelman, trained in taiko and gamelan.  In the other, Hong Kong electro-acoustic composer Amma Ateria.  When the bell rings, the two women approach the center and embrace, dubbing their new partnership IMA.

The Flowers Die in Burning Fire is a dark album, perfectly suited for this time of year.  But while it’s a suite about death, it also embraces rebirth: the hand, the offering, the flower.  One intuits ancient forces at work, embedded in the mysterious poetry that dangles on the edge of perception.  The opening Japanese words are melded to a hollowed drum beat, the beginning of a ritualistic ceremony, chased by cymbals, chimes, gongs and bells in “Meshes of the Afternoon.”  One two-note phrase even imitates a doorbell.  As words flow backwards, time’s arrow is recalibrated.  What’s on the other side of the door?

“At the third stroke, it will be 7, 2, and 40 seconds.”  The opening line of “時間” (“Time”) gives way to birdsong, wind chimes and dueling bell towers.  This disconnection lies at the heart of Flowers, which toys with perceptions of time.  What happens when our clocks go mad and our computers stop making sense?  Can we trust our bodies and instincts?  According to researchers, we cannot; scientists isolated underground vastly overestimate or underestimate the amount of hours spent away from the surface. This claustrophobic sense is visited in “Vulnerable,” which sounds like wind rushing through a cave, answered by a series of lonely signal flares.  The droned-out ending of “Drowning Girl” is thoroughly forlorn, while “Thin Film” is abstract and terrifying.  But IMA doesn’t sink into the abyss; sometimes some things must die for others to be born ~ or in some traditions, reborn.

The real action begins after “the flowers die in burning fire.”  Abstraction gives way to melody, dark tones to light, whisper to song.  We realize that the album is not reflecting a mood, but telling a story that is as cyclical as the seasons.  While the drones of “Eline” sound like fall, the chimes ring like spring.  In the center of the piece, all sound is sucked into a marrow of silence, only to reemerge: stronger, more stable, possessing the sing-song quality of children dancing around a maypole.

The odd triumph of Flowers is that it sounds foreboding, but bears an encouraging message, in the same way as a severed hand seems frightening, but can symbolize protection, blessing or longevity depending on one’s culture.  What one perceives as encroaching darkness may simply be the light getting ready to leap.  (Richard Allen)

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