A Restatement: The Art of ‘Ground Zero’ (Part 26)
From the Daigo Fukuryu Maru to the present (2)
I was still a high school student when I first learned of the death of Daigo Fukuryu Maru crewmember Aikichi Kuboyama and of his final words. But I learned of them not – as is often the case – through studying history, but through a performance by a certain musician. After I lowered the stylus onto the record I had placed on the turntable, the piece of music in question began amid the subdued murmur peculiar to outdoor live recordings. A voice could be heard reciting Aikichi Kuboyama’s name, pronouncing it “Aikihi Kuboyaama.” It was an “opening” that sounded as if this voice was slowly floating to the surface from the bottom of a deep, dark ocean.
Titled “Bohimei” (meaning “epitaph”), this piece of music was performed by a quintet consisting of two guitars, cello (bass), sax and drums, the musicians improvising atonally so that it seemed as if an ensemble of restrained anger was being played over the top of the vocals, like waves breaking on the shore and retreating. Though atonal, the result is not a “roar” akin to “noise.” By no means do the ensemble drown out the name “Aikihi Kuboyaama.” Rather, the impression is almost one of calmness controlled to the utmost limits.
Everything changed from that moment on. This voice and this performance became stuck in my head. So firmly is this performance etched in my memory that even today, nearly forty years after I first heard it, it sometimes spills from my mouth unexpectedly and unintentionally like a mutter. It was not a particularly original performance, but such was the strength and durability of the penetrating power of “Bohimei.” It is inconceivable that this fact and the surprise I felt when I realized that “Aikihi Kuboyaama” was the name of the first Japanese to die from the effects of a nuclear weapon since Hiroshima and Nagasaki could be unrelated.
Masayuki Takayanagi and New Direction Unit, Live at Moers Festival ’80 (TBM Records, CD version, 2000. Reissued on CD in 2013, as shown at bottom right of the photo at the top of this article)
This performance is from a live recording of a concert by the New Direction Unit led by jazz guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi staged on May 26, 1980, as part of the Moers New Jazz Festival ’80 in what was then West Germany. West Germany, where jazz was especially popular even compared to the rest of Europe, also produced a number of international musicians in avant-garde genres such as free jazz, including the Globe Unity Orchestra and Peter Brotzmann. In particular, as suggested by the inclusion of the words “new jazz” in the title, the abovementioned Moers Festival was an extremely important event that attracted the kinds of musicians who were not exactly blessed with frequent opportunities to perform. Even given this situation, however, the performance by Takayanagi and his group was especially remarkable. Metaphorically speaking, there was a large, deep rift between free jazz – at the time already in the process of being institutionalized to the extent that it could be showcased at festivals – and performances by Takayanagi and his group, equivalent to the difference between standard jazz and free jazz. As to the precise sound of this rift, I can only suggest readers check for themselves by comparing the actual sound sources, but my interest in the name Aikichi Kuboyama and the reverberations from the Daigo Fukuryu Maru incident that continued long into the future undoubtedly combined with this peculiar “sound” to become deeply and firmly etched in my unconscious via the sensory organs of my ears like some auditory hallucination.
As to whether or not this could be called learning, I am still uncertain. What is certain is that it was possible to “recover” a historical event through expression, or to be more precise through “sound,” without relying on existing values or judgments such as knowledge or justice. Furthermore, that this performance by Takayanagi and his group at Moers was an attempt to move out of East Asia and deliver such an opportunity for recovery as far away as Europe is also no doubt obvious from the fact that the narration over the top of “Resistance 1,” which was performed directly after “Bohimei,” relates to the Korean poet Kim Jiha, who defied the military dictatorship in South Korea with his poetry and was repeatedly arrested, imprisoned and tortured, and at one time was even sentenced to death. The following is from a statement by Takayanagi in the sleeve notes that accompany the CD:
Joining hands with weapons-trading countries and seeking peace and fame and fortune for oneself is not something a musician should do, and in fact at one time artists rooted their very activities in exposing such circumstances and elaborating on ways of changing such structures. These were the minimum requirements, as it were, for any person involved in the arts. Anti-war principles are not things to be aggrandized, made a big fuss about or celebrated, but are ingrained in the individual and directed at the very eradication of the appalling tragedies – death from unjustified exposure to radiation (Bohimei), the insatiable exploitation of people in weak or small countries (Resistance) – that occur almost daily, and for considerate people not a day goes by without them shedding tears of pain over these matters. Politics, however, are absent.
(From the “memo” by Takayanagi reprinted in the CD version of Live at Moers Festival ’80)
In this way, through the sound it produces, music digs up the memories of listeners and irreversibly impresses on them hidden structures and forgotten facts in the context of the “ordinariness” of listening without relying on such special occasions as study or politics. For me, “Bohimei” was indeed something possessed of just such a quality. And perhaps this is the very kind of thing that will be an effective form of resistance (one kind of resistance among many) in the age in which “politics, however, are absent.” In this sense, in the same way that Charles Mingus was just the way he was – in the same way that the essence of jazz itself was – rather than being extraordinary, Takayanagi was an extremely honest jazz performer. Most likely this is the same thing as when, rather than being involved in politics, a musician is “political” in the true sense of the word (ie, discerning the multifariousness of minorities as opposed to the majority).
The Studio for Electronic Music at the West German Broadcasting Corporation (WDR) in Cologne. It was established in 1951 under the directorship of Herbert Eimert, who later produced Epitaph for Aikichi Kuboyama. Through his efforts, including inviting Stockhausen to be his assistant, he had a great influence on electronic music. Photo: McNitefly.
In this respect, Takayanagi’s “Bohimei” is endowed with a truly political plurality. The reason why the pronunciation of the name “Aikihi Kuboyaama” quoted in the piece is so strange is none other than because it is being pronounced in German. Why German? Because the narration used here is sampled from Epitaph für Aikichi Kuboyama für Sprecher und Sprachklänge (1957-1962) (Epitaph for Aikichi Kuboyama, for speaker and electronics), composed by the German electronic music critic, engineer and composer, Herbert Eimert (1897-1972). And the person who translated Aikichi Kuboyama’s Japanese epitaph in the Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall – “I pray that I am the last victim of an atomic or hydrogen bomb” – into German for the narration using a translation that had found its way into the English-speaking world was none other than Günther Anders.
I say “none other than” because Anders was the person who ventured to correspond with Claude Eatherly, who was the pilot of Straight Flush, the weather reconnaissance plane that flew ahead of the Enola Gay on the mission to drop the first atom bomb (codenamed “Little Boy”) on Hiroshima, and who sent an encoded message to the Enola Gay advising that the weather was clear and to “bomb primary.” After the war, Eatherly was forced to spend a lengthy period in a psychiatric hospital after having been diagnosed with a mental illness, and it was the philosopher Anders who alerted the world to his existence at a time when he was denied contact with society.
The Enola Gay exhibit at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum annex).
Among the more famous portraits of Eatherly is the one taken by Richard Avedon. Eatherly’s photo (in the center of the screenshot) is included along with those of the likes of C. Clifford and Daniel Cohn-Bendit in the “Politics” category on the Avedon Foundation website.
In other words, the sequence of events was as follows. Through an exchange of letters born out of his ideas and beliefs, Anders revealed to the world the innermost thoughts of Eatherly (1), who was trapped in the US, and by quoting a German translation produced by this same Anders, Eimert communicated Kuboyama’s words to people in Europe making full use of the innovative technique of electronic music that he himself had just developed. It is highly unlikely that in Eimert’s mind at this time there was no correspondence between the Pandora’s box of the science and technology of nuclear power and the technological innovation of electronic music/tape music as it related to musical technique. One could also probably say that he was trying to put up resistance to the rampage of the musical technology of electronic music. In addition, Eimert has broadcast this work over the radio (“radio active,” so to speak). Takayanagi’s “Bohimei” has concentrated “political” power because it condenses such appeals into a single musical space and conveys them gradually to listeners, by boring through history and making them respond to each other. Perhaps that is why. Why they never approach unipolar concentrations akin to the “dropping of a bomb”; why they do not create easy to understand peaks, but rather, based on “the nature of radiation exposure” (radioactivity?) in which difficult to understand events gradually spread, project sound while varying the tempo (it is well known that among the techniques used by New Direction Unit in their performances are “gradual projection” and “mass projection”).
However, despite it having been embarked upon in 1957, just a short time after the Daigo Fukuryu Maru incident, a Japanese version of Eimerts record featuring his work inscribed with Kuboyama’s “epitaph” delivered to him by Anders has never been released. It was Takayanagi’s initiative at Moers that mended this severed link through the performance of “Bohimei,” at once redelivering Kuboyama’s message to listeners in Europe and returning it to us here in Japan. The reverberations from this also reached my ears when I was still at high school, so that I ended up learning about Kuboyama’s death and his final words from an unexpected direction.
- This exchange of letters between Anders and Eatherly was published in Japan under the title
Hiroshima – waga tsumi to batsu: genbaku pairotto no kuno no tegami
- (Hiroshima – my crime and punishment: The anguished letters of an A-bomb pilot) (Japanese translation by Seiei Shinohara). The original German title was
Off limits für das Gewissen
- , meaning “Off limits for conscience” (the English title was
- ). Published in 1961, the original German edition was quickly translated and published in the
- the same year, evoking a massive response, with the abovementioned translation put out as a book by Chikuma Shobo the following year. Amid the current turmoil over President Obama’s official visit to Hiroshima and the Fukushima nuclear accident, it is a book that truly deserves to be widely read, but its only subsequent publication in Japan was as part of the Chikuma Bunko range in 1987.