This resonant recording scores the aftermath of one disaster, but by extension speaks to those caught in the midst of another. Recorded in the flattened town of Shizugawa following the devastating tsunami of March 2011, Andrew Littlejohn‘s study traces what was lost, and what arrived in its place.
The survivors dig through the rubble, unearthing recent artifacts of suddenly vanished lives. They no longer hear pedestrians, commerce, children at play. The wildlife seems louder, as its competition is gone. The wind and waves are now a constant part of the audible soundscape, no longer soothing but lurking; what once seemed benign became a bearer of death.
According to Littlejohn, “two Shizugawas overlapped: one of memory and one emerging.” The only constant, present before and after the tsunami, is the quartet of locally-composed songs on the emergency broadcast system, sounding at 6, 12, 5 and 9, and all heard on this recording. Endō Miki died sending a final warning, as did Satō Yoshio, the composer of the noon song.
The frogs play and mate in the pools left behind by the tsunami. The human homes of Shizugawa were destroyed, while new homes for different species were created. Is this a fair trade? Balance? Recompense? The strains of Neon Genesis Evangelion ring out; what a theme to awaken to. What dire thoughts accompany the morning tea. In retrospect, might Satō Hidetoshi’s theme have been a warning, a prophecy? The searchers continue to scrape through the scraps, to place items in piles, to collect wallets to return to next of kin.
And now to the town center, no longer a shopping area, but a digging area. Construction trucks pass. Warning beeps sound as they maneuver in reverse: any such beep a post-traumatic reminder for those still on edge. Birds cry out in the distance: are they searching for loved ones as well? Yoshio’s theme echoes at noon, a ghost of a song, a composer’s final legacy, a repetition from beyond the grave.
Hammers hammer and dogs bark. Gulls cry and cicadas sing. Hulls creak; music seeps and retreats. The ancestral spirits seem to be sticking around.
Now we too are living in a time of disaster: a slower tsunami, yet no less devastating. We too are sifting through the rubble of our lives, seeking for items to salvage. We too have lost loved ones, opportunities, a way of life. And yet, the most fortunate of us have gained things as well: perspective, new priorities, an awareness of our own fragility. One disaster speaks to another. Shizugawa is forever changed. And yet, nature continues to be replenished, to find a way. Might our spirits find a way as well? (Richard Allen)