It was meant to be a safety test. The No.4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was shut down to simulate a power failure on April 26, 1986. What should have been a routine event turned into the worst nuclear accident in history. The only thing that comes close is Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi disaster in 2011.
Three decades later, the towns and villages surrounding the site still bear deep scars. In Gomel, Belarus – the subject of a sound installation recorded to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the disaster – babies are born with a muscle-wasting condition at a rate 80 per cent higher than normal. It’s just one example of the widespread suffering experienced now three decades on.
At the end of August, Naviar Records released a six-track collection of pieces from that sound installation entitled Gomel, 1986. It is a moving compilation.
Dirigent leads with “Black Rain.” We hear what sounds like gentle rain dripping onto a concrete floor. Something is pounding quietly, like far-away fireworks and then a wave of noise approaches. The recorded voices that follow – some appear to be panic-stricken workers onsite – are horrifying. The fear is palpable. Consider that many of those closest to the accident sacrificed their lives trying to manage the disaster. Dirigent’s piece is tastefully inspired.
The remainder of the album is less intense, although no less emotional. Each of the pieces are beautifully composed and performed. “Aftermath” by Jesús Lastra is a particular standout. Featuring elements of ambient, classical and field recordings, it closes the album on a suitably reflective note.
The full sound installation can be found on Mixcloud.