I recall listening to my completed mix of “November End” on the Narita airport limousine bus that took me into Tokyo, early one morning (after an overnight flight) at the beginning of March 2011. I was to work there for a couple of weeks to start up an important project, in the absence of a critically-ill team lead (who was bravely soldiering on with working from home, but clearly in very bad shape). After a week at my desk, in and out of meetings, pulling together a project plan as best I could, March 11th began like any other of the rapidly progressing days.
Sitting at my desk on the 31st floor of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, at around 2:50pm, I was surprised to feel the building starting to sway rather violently. I had experienced earthquakes before (when living and working in Japan in 2002/3), but this was different. The swaying seemed to be continuing for much longer than I’d ever experienced previously, accompanied by media reports on the monitors dotted around the office, and the spectacle of local colleagues putting on the yellow plastic helmets from the earthquake readiness kits in their desks, crouching under their desks and, in some cases, sobbing.
I looked out the window at the panoramic view across the city to see crowds of school children far below, gathering in the relative safety of a playing field, and a variety of explosions across Tokyo (particularly around Odaiba, in the distance) as gas mains shattered and ignited. I thought that this might be “it”, and consciously decided not to die wearing an ill-fitting yellow plastic helmet. I felt a certain grim amusement too at the perfect timing of my work trip: I seemed to have arrived in Japan just in time for its famously-overdue “big” quake. Across from our office tower, I noted a darkly-amusing spectacle: the residential tower several hundred meters away seemed to be swaying in an opposite rhythm to ours, which only exaggerated the impression of movement between the two buildings; as we swayed to the left, it swayed to the right, and vice versa. And, halfway up the residential tower, a pair of window cleaners in a cradle were clinging on for dear life, as the building in front of them swayed sickeningly left and right, and left and right.
This was the experience (and the post-nuclear-accident aftermath) that rather threw out my resolution to finish a music track every month. When I eventually returned to Singapore and dealt with the repercussions of the event, it took a number of months to crystallise the emotions into an instrumental track. The wonderful Omnisphere synthesiser module again supplied much of the atmosphere. With this complete, I asked a Japanese friend, Emi Ino, to write a few lines on her thoughts about the earthquake (and tsunami that resulted). Emi produced something quite brilliant and moving, to my mind. I recorded her narration of the words one evening, and performed only minimal editing to break her audio track into sections which could start at particular points in the track.
This track is a testament to the bravery and sheer humanity of the Japanese people. Their co-existence with the possibility of disaster and death from quakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, whilst striving for beauty and perfection, and their national awareness of the passing nature of beauty, which they celebrate in the appearance of cherry blossom and the reddening of autumn leaves, have made a permanent impression on me.
chi no yure no okina sakebi wa
umi ni magire saru
nanzen mo no hito no inochi mo sakebi mo mata
(the strong voice of the earthquake melted away in the deep water. so did thousands of people)
kakoku na shizen zankoku na dekigoto
soredemo tachimukai ikinobiru hito no tsuyosa
itsumademo akiramezu hagemashiau hito no
nasake buka sa
(even facing harsh disaster, unexpected tragedy,
people dare to stand up. the strength, how humans survive. people never give up. the compassion, how humans support each other)