Allen LeVines (b. 1954) was inspired by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s set of six short stories set at the time of the 1995 Kobe earthquake, which captures the varieties of reactions to the life-changing event.
Of course, none of Murakami’s stories are about the quake itself, but about the aftermath – in the first story, ‘UFO in Kushiro’, Komuro, a salesman, cannot understand when all his wife can do is watch the television news coverage of the quake and its damage. She leaves him, and all with a heightened sense of the dangers that normally surround us.
Thomas Allen LeVines: …after the quake: 5 Impressions from Murakami – No. 1. a box like the ones used for human ashes (Mare Duo, guitar and mandolin)
In ‘Landscape with Flatiron’, a restless young artist is called to the beach because of all the available driftwood tossed up on the shore. Junko and her surfer boyfriend Keisuke join Miyake, a suicidal artist, in building a large bonfire. Miyake is from Kobe but left it far behind years ago. He believes that the reason we stare into bonfires is because it shows us our feelings, isolated deep inside.
Thomas Allen LeVines: …after the quake: 5 Impressions from Murakami – No. 2. the glow from the flames spread strangely unreal shadows (Mare Duo, guitar and mandolin)
Focusing on another underachiever in “All God’s Children Can Dance”, 25-year-old Yoshiya is home alone. His mother and her church friends have gone down to the earthquake area to volunteer, and he is left to ponder his future. As he dances, he feels the secrets deep in the earth – the lair of earthquakes.
Thomas Allen LeVines: …after the quake: 5 Impressions from Murakami – No. 3. a gust of wind set the leaves of grass to dancing (Mare Duo, guitar and mandolin)
In ‘Thailand’, an overworked doctor on holiday is told that all she had denied herself has become a stone within her. But, the soothsayer tells her she will dream about a snake, and she must hold onto the snake until it swallows her stone. And so redemption comes, and we can move forward in the world.
Thomas Allen LeVines: …after the quake: 5 Impressions from Murakami – No. 4. white clouds floated in the sky … birds and dragonflies cut across (Mare Duo, guitar and mandolin)
The analogy of the sound of an earthquake to the sound of a locomotive is the source of ‘Super-Frog Saves Tokyo’. Katagiri comes home from work to find a 6-foot-tall frog in his living room. The frog has come to get his help in saving Tokyo from destruction. Specifically at 8:30 am on 18 February (The Kobe earthquake struck at 5:46 am on 17 January). Katagiri and Super-Frog will have to combat Worm to save the city. They are successful, and the earthquake is prevented, but at the cost of Frog’s life.
Thomas Allen LeVines: …after the quake: 5 Impressions from Murakami – No. 5. the locomotive is coming … (Mare Duo, guitar and mandolin)
By using Muramaki’s understated stories for this set of pieces for guitar and mandolin, LeVines has matched Murakami’s style, but in a way that Murakami probably never imagined. Murakami’s stories are full of jazz and classical music, but not music for duos. LeVines can copy various Japanese styles, such as the percussive string sound of the shamisen in the mandolin, but it’s only a hint of the real sound, just as these stories are only a hint of the real thoughts and sufferings of Japan during the terrible natural disaster.
LeVines found the whole project to be the ultimate intercultural project: ‘an American writing for a German duo about a Japanese book, incorporating interests in Ghanaian drumming, …[and] in the music of Scandinavia, Europe, America, and Asia’. What do you find here?
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