Sunday, March 31, 2013

Five things you probably didn't know about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The concert recording of Shadow Etchings is now available to listen here or on Soundcloud!

Original Post:
Tuesday, April 2nd 2013 will hear the premier of my orchestral piece Shadow Etchings by the BYU Symphony Orchestra. The work is inspired by photographs of 'atomic shadows' taken after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and  Nagasaki. These photographs portray residual shadows from the silhouettes of various objects vaporized by the flash of the explosion. Here is an example that I an pretty sure is legitimate:

I wanted to compose a work that would be inspired by but not programmatically depictive of these photographs. I thought how these photographs portray a quiet trace of a cataclysmic event. For my composition, I represent this unspoken event with a massive multi-strata harmonic progression of seven chords. During the piece, this progression is mostly just hinted at, with each section winding a different path through without stating the full mass of it. The winds and strings start with a quiet path through the higher parts of the progression, with a bass clarinet solo playing a melody that will return at the climax of the piece. The brass then play through the mid range of the progression, with an 'echo' gesture which plays a prominent role throughout the piece. The lowest instruments of the orchestra then move through the low end of the progression. At this point, the orchestra states the full progression obscured by splitting the orchestra into two - half the instruments in crescendo and half in diminuendo on any given note of the progression. Leading out of this progression, an alarm-like repeated note sounds while a broken waltz-like texture staggers in a build up to the climax. At this moment, the return of the bass clarinet melody from the opening is followed by its echo. Just as this melody builds to another climax, the texture collapses to a seething mass with the whole orchestra playing different fragmented bits of the main chord progression. A final few vignettes finish out the piece.

It has been a wonderful experience to work with the orchestra and hear the piece come to life off the page. I first started Shadow Etchings in the spring of 2012, and expanded and finished it during that summer. I had almost despaired of hearing it in concert when the opportunity opened up with the Symphony Orchestra. Thanks to conductor Christian Smith and the members of the orchestra for giving my first orchestral piece a chance to be heard! 

To celebrate the premier of this piece, here are five things you probably didn't know about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  1. Two different types of atomic bombs were used, and both fell slightly off target. The "Little Boy" bomb dropped on Hiroshima August 6th, 1945 was a gun-type fusion weapon containing 140 pounds of uranium and producing a blast of 16 kilotons. The "Fat Man" bomb dropped on Nagasaki August 9th was an implosion-type weapon containing 14 pounds of plutonium and producing a blast of 21 kilotons. By comparison, most later nuclear devices have yields of hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of kilotons. Both bombs were timed to fall for exactly 43 seconds and explode in the air above their respective cities. "Little Boy" missed its target, the Aioi bridge, by 800 feet, detonating instead above the Shima Surgical Clinic. "Fat Man" detonated 1.9 miles northwest of its planed target, putting some hills between the blast and much of the city, but directly destroying the Mitsubishi-Urakami Ordinance Works, the factory that manufactured the type of torpedoes used to attack Pearl Harbor
  2. Nagasaki was the secondary target for the second bombing. The primary target, Kokura, was spared by a thick cloud cover. Strict instructions were given not to drop the bomb unless a visual confirmation could be given of the target. After diverting from Kokura to Nagasaki, the B-29 Superfortress Bockscar finally caught a break in the clouds allowing it to proceed with the attack. 
  3. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were only the 2nd and 3rd most destructive bombing raids of World War 2. Each blast created an area of total destruction around 1 mile square. 90,000 to 166,000 people were casualties in Hiroshima, and 60,000 to 80,000 in Nagasaki. The single most destructive bombing raid was actually months earlier: The March 9/10 firebombing of Tokyo, when 334 B-29s dropped around 1,700 tons of bombs on Japan's capital, destroying 16 square miles of the city in a devastating firestorm. Low estimates guess 100,000 dead, but an estimated 1.5 million people lived in the burned out region. 
  4. After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the U.S. dropped pamphlets over Japan with the following grim and chilling warning: “TO THE JAPANESE PEOPLE: America asks that you take immediate heed of what we say on this leaflet. We are in possession of the most destructive explosive ever devised by man. A single one of our newly developed atomic bombs is actually the equivalent in explosive power to what 2000 of our giant B-29s can carry on a single mission. This awful fact is one for you to ponder and we solemnly assure you it is grimly accurate. We have just begun to use this weapon against your homeland. If you still have any doubt, make inquiry as to what happened to Hiroshima when just one atomic bomb fell on that city. Before using this bomb to destroy every resource of the military by which they are prolonging this useless war, we ask that you now petition the Emperor to end the war. Our president has outlined for you the thirteen consequences of an honorable surrender. We urge that you accept these consequences and begin the work of building a new, better and peace-loving Japan. You should take steps now to cease military resistance. Otherwise, we shall resolutely employ this bomb and all our other superior weapons to promptly and forcefully end the war. EVACUATE YOUR CITIES.”
  5. On August 15, 1945, after a failed attempt by the military to prevent it, Emperor Hirohito of Japan gave a recorded radio broadcast announcing the surrender of Japan to the Allies, including the following reference to the recent atomic bombings: “Moreover, the enemy now possesses a new and terrible weapon with the power to destroy many innocent lives and do incalculable damage. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization. Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of Our subjects, or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.”

    A certain amount of controversy surrounds the use of atomic force against Japan. There is no denying the immediate, horrible effects of its use. However, I can't help but hope that this great tragedy has etched a shadow into our collective consciousness: in almost 70 years, no other atomic weapons have been used in combat. I pray: NEVER AGAIN.


Rae said...

I love your motivation for your piece! And I was sad as I read the facts about Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It's something I wish never happened. That photograph is really haunting; wish I could hear the performance.

R. Michael Wahlquist said...

I will definitely post the concert recording when I get it!

R. Michael Wahlquist said...

The recording is now up!