EXCLUSIVE: Sarah Cahill on Mamoru Fujieda's 'Patterns of Plants,' Noguchi Museum Recital
Life extends outward in unusual patterns here on planet Earth. Perhaps existence is rooted in plant life and the way it communicates with the modern world. Mamoru Fujieda and his chilling post-minimal magnum opus Patterns of Plants, the electrical activity of plants has become the basis, and composition, of his seminal 1997 recording.
It's not often that a museum features a classical musician as part of its curation. Juxtaposed with the walls, the dynamic pianist Sarah Cahill breathes new life into the Noguchi Museum from Feb. 24-28 as part of a new installation that will bring Mr. Fujieda's Patterns of Plants to new depths.
If you aren't in the know, Mr. Fujieda's album is an appropriation of the "voices" in plants reinterpreted through music. In using botanist-artist's Yuji Dogane's high-tech "Plantron," Fujieda and co. were able to decipher melodies within the sound, which was then used as the basis for the entire piece.
Ms. Cahill is a captivating piano player, certainly, but her interpretations of Patterns has become a staple of the musician's performance. It is because of her 2014 recording of Patterns of Plants that the entire disc was made available outside of the U.S., most notably in Japan.
This is a new language for music, one that almost seems too modern to be a 1997 creation. Scanning the electronic language of plants sounds like a James Cameron production but it's a device that will transform the Noguchi Museum into a sonic pathway.
Thus, from now until Sunday, Feb. 28 at 6 p.m., Ms. Cahill will be her own art piece in the museum as she performs Patterns of Plants for passersby and patrons of all stripes.
We were exceptionally lucky to steal a few insights from Ms. Cahill during her tenure at the museum. Check out the minutes from our conversation with the post-minimal performer below.
CLASSICALITE: To start, obviously, this performance is a unique experience, one that will sound through the Noguchi Museum's opening hours. To start, and perhaps the most obvious question, do you feel that the musical textures of Fujieda's compositions will resonate appropriately in the museum?
SARAH CAHILL: Yes, absolutely! Isamu Noguchi and Mamoru Fujieda share a profound aesthetic, rooted in Japanese tradition but also very much of the present. Noguchi's art is deeply respectful of nature, both in his sculptures and in how he surrounded his museum with his favorite trees and plants. There are three beech trees growing inside the museum and pushing outwards through a skylight towards the outdoors. Fujieda's Patterns of Plants reflect that same intertwining of art and ecology, always embracing our natural surroundings. And the Patterns of Plants are as gentle and subtle as Noguchi's sculptures.
CL: In your interview with WQXR, it's mentioned that Fujieda's pieces are usually comprised of different combinations of instruments, and that your approach to these works was minimal. how do you feel that the museum acts as an appropriate setting for a work like this? Do you think that the museum's approach to how it curates its art is similar to the music?
SC: That's an interesting question. Mamoru Fujieda always considers how his music will resonate in and with the space in which it's heard. Just as the Noguchi Museum is beautifully curated so that the viewer can appreciate one or two sculptures at once in a peaceful environment, I'm sure that this will be the ideal place to hear Fujieda's gorgeous melodic lines and clear counterpoint. There are some minimalist qualities to his music, and he certainly has been called a postminimalist, but there is incredible variety in the 45 or so Patterns of Plants that I will be playing over the course of five days.
CL: The idea behind Fujieda's audio interpretations is fascinating. We experience life, plant life specifically, through a variety of senses, so how are these compositions representative of that?
SC: Fujieda gathers data from the leaves of various plants by means of an electronic device, and translates them into music. I once asked him how exactly he creates scores with the data, and he simply replied "That is my secret." So it is a mystery to me. But there are substantial differences between the pieces based on the "voices" of begonias and those composed after he cultivated an olive plant on the balcony of his Tokyo apartment. You will hear the variety of all the plant life that he has studied and given voice to through his music.
CL: The music is, also, very broken down, and you've said that Patterns of Plants invokes a "dialogue of voices, an intertwining of melodic lines" that are similar to those in a Bach fugue. How do you feel that playing this fugue-esque, wandering type of melody will translate to an audience at the Noguchi?
SC: In his program notes for the Patterns of Plants, Fujieda credits the great composer Lou Harrison with teaching him "the pleasures of melody." Melody is central to all of these pieces, and sometimes it ventures into explorations and surprising territory. I love that these pieces are unpredictable. If they wander, they will be a perfect companion for the listener who wanders among Noguchi's sculptures in the museum.
CL: Lastly, do you feel the music will be a force of meditation and deep reflection in this kind of live setting, too?
SC: The Noguchi Museum is such a powerful place, in its very sense of reflection and serenity, with Noguchi's startling works of art. My hope is that Mamoru Fujieda's Patterns of Plants will be perfectly integrated into that environment, and enhance the experience of the visitors as they venture into the galleries and the gardens. It's a great privilege to be in residence there this week.