ALBUM REVIEW: Mamoru Fujieda’s “Patterns of Plants”

by Maggie Molloy

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© Susan Scheid

We experience plant life through a variety of senses: sight, taste, touch, smell. In fact, flowers and other plants have long been featured in visual arts, culinary arts, medicines, fragrances, and more. Despite all of the many ways in which we encounter vegetation, though, we have never actually been able to experience plants through sound—until now.

Japanese post-minimalist composer Mamoru Fujieda has spent 15 years of his career creating music based on the electrical activity in living plants. The result is his magnum opus, an ongoing series of compositions appropriately titled “Patterns of Plants.” The pieces have been arranged for a variety of instruments and ensembles.

This past September, Fujieda released a two-disc album featuring a large selection of these works performed by renowned pianist Sarah Cahill. The album, titled “Mamoru Fujieda: Patterns of Plants,” is the first solo piano recording of this music to be sold outside of Japan.

Hop over to Pinna Records to purchase the album!

The compositions, created between 1996 and 2011, were made possible with the help of the “Plantron,” a device created by botanist and artist Yūji Dōgane. The “Plantron” measures electrical fluctuations on the surface of plant leaves and converts that data into sound using Max, a visual programming language for music.

“I understood these data to constitute the ‘voices’ of plants, and tried to make those voices audible as melodic patterns,” Fujieda said.

Fujieda sifted through the sounds in search of pleasing musical patterns, which he then used as the basis for composing a number of short pieces. He then grouped these pieces into collections, sort of like little bouquets full of Baroque dance suites.

The pieces reflect the subtle beauty and uniqueness of each plant, often drawing from a number of vibrant musical influences while still maintaining a consistently calming, gentle theme throughout.

“[The pieces] resonate with Baroque music, but also with the folk music of Ainu and Celtic cultures; with the lyricism of Lou Harrison; with medieval chant; and with a modal language that hints at alternative tunings, even when played in equal temperament, as they are on this recording (with Mamoru’s blessing),” said Cahill, who has been playing many of these works since 1997.

The rich but subtle diversity of each piece makes them quietly captivating both as individual compositions but also as a whole. Part of the album’s charm is the way it flows gently from Pattern to Pattern, immersing the listener in a lush forest full of ornamented melodies and delicate details.

“They embrace the repetitive structures of post-minimalism; but just as the leaves of a tree appear uniform from a distance, and only on closer inspection reveal surprising diversity, so the attentive listener discovers a multitude of variations and transformations within each Pattern,” Cahill said.

The pieces are poignant, sweet, and sincere. It is as though each Pattern is its own gentle flower, one small but infinitely nuanced part of the larger landscape. Just as flowers may be arranged in any combination, the Patterns may be listened to in any order. Cahill chose the order of the pieces in the album, with Fujieda’s approval.

“Sarah’s performance, with its refined phrasings and delicately controlled sonorities, imparts an individual character to each of the pieces,” Fujieda said. “The patterns together create an impression of being interwoven endlessly like a tapestry. It is as if the lives of plants are revived in her piano through this continuous chain of interrelated variations.”

Fujieda may have planted the seed with his first Pattern in 1996, but this album proves that his music has since grown into a beautiful garden full of delicate, charming melodies.

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