Fujieda’s Patterns of Plants: Commune With Your Inner Fern

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

If you enjoy the gentle, atmospheric, but expressive music of, say, Mompou, then you are going to love Japanese composer Mamoru Fujieda’s Patterns of Plants. These brief pieces, lasting between two and five minutes, are based on musical transcriptions of the electrical impulses produced by, you guessed it, plants. This isn’t quite as weird as it sounds. After all, Villa-Lobos created the thematic material of his Sixth Symphony by tracing the outline of a topographical map of Brazil on music paper. Just how Fujieda translates plant metabolism into musical ideas must remain a State Secret, but the result is lovely, and he’s been doing it for years.

There are dozens of pieces in this series, grouped into “Collections” and labelled by letter (Pattern A, B, C, etc). Fujieda has written them for various keyboards (including clavichord), both Eastern and Western instruments, and he also has used different tuning systems. Some of the pieces have been recorded previously on John Zorn’s Tzadik label, but all 32 of the Patterns here have been arranged specifically for piano with the composer’s sanction. This means we get two Patterns from Begonia in My Life (2009) and four from The Olive Branch Speaks (2008-10), but unfortunately no azaleas since the AAAA (American Association for Azaleas Anonymous) has made it clear that azaleas only emit electro-musical impulses in mean-tone temperament. OK, just kidding.

Fujieda’s Plant Patterns are tonal (or modal), but their outward, post-minimalist simplicity conceals real sophistication of technique. The pieces are built out of a few basic ideas: repetition of the initial pattern–which can be a melodic motive or a series of chords–combined with gentle rhythmic displacement, often with the addition of a quasi-baroque, ornamental melodic line. From these basic beginnings the music grows organically (How else?), increasing in complexity in one or two waves, and usually stopping abruptly, without warning. Occasionally, pianist Sarah Cahill tempers the abruptness with a gentle ritard in the final measure. It’s easier to listen to than it is to describe, and so try out the sample below, from the Seventh Collection, Pattern A.

Cahill has been championing this music for some time now, and she plays it with unaffected subtlety and sensitivity. It is trickier than it sounds–particularly with respect to rhythm–and Cahill’s textural transparency and independence of the hands ensures that the music comes across with convincing fluency and naturalness. Fujieda’s decision to identify these works by the relatively impersonal titles “Collection” and “Pattern” should be applauded. This focuses attention on the music rather than on extraneous nonsense. His few descriptive titles are clearly whimsical.

The engineering is as beautiful as is the playing. The only caution I can offer is that after hearing this music, you may never eat another salad without the guilty feeling that you could be sprinkling those croutons and bacon bits on the next Mozart.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

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