Mirror Image Around the World

Pianist Sarah Cahill has been trying to get me together with Japanese composer Mamoru Fujieda, and Saturday he and I managed to have lunch in New York. Among other points of commonality, he’s written a book on microtonality (I should say, I am currently writing a book on microtonality; I will always be writing a book on microtonality; I am so wary of the thousands of picayune errors of fact and number that my fellow microtonalists will hit me with, that I am planning to time its publication to occur mere moments before my death, so that their objections will come too late; but anyway, Mamoru has already completed one). It’s titled The Archeology of Sound, only in Japanese, and here’s his discussion of La Monte Young’s Well-Tuned Piano:

Sarah had played me (on piano, not recording) a Fujieda piece called Patterns of Plants, and it turns out the Patterns of Plants series is an enormous cycle, comprising the bulk of Mamoru’s ouput. As he explains it,

Patterns of Plants is a series of compositions based on the melodic patterns that are extracted from the data of slight changes of electric potential found in living plants. Such a procedure was made possible by “Plantron,” an apparatus conceived by bio-media artist Yuji Dogane… The compositional process… starts from finding out “musical values” in the changes of electric potential. By finding out “musical value,” I mean an attitude to regard the changes as “voices of plants” and to gather melodic patterns while listening to their voices.

This makes the piece sound rather complicated, or at least mechanical and objective, and it’s truly anything but that. It’s consummately simple, gentle music, somewhere between Chinese folk music, 13th-century motets, Greek bouzoukee, Virgil Thomson, and Peter Garland. Its simplicity is deceptive, and I find that as I listen to it more and more I increasingly hear embedded patterns and subtleties. One of the CDs he gave me (Tzadik) is imaginatively scored for violin, sho (kind of an Asian mouth organ), and two kotos, the other (on a Japanese label, Milestone Art Works) is for clavichord. Very calming music, and I’ve put up both CDs for your enjoyment on PostClassic Radio. Mamoru and I were also born the same year, though I thought he looked considerably younger; and we both studied briefly with Feldman, which happened for him when he was getting his doctorate at UC San Diego. He teaches acoustic design at Kyushu University in southern Japan. 
Some of you will recognize the environs as being Elephant and Castle in New York.
While I’m mentioning PostClassic Radio, after the big copyright brouhaha of a couple of years ago, the fees they charge me to run the station got raised 50 percent without much fanfare. But then – and I just figured this out recently – somehow they also doubled my disc space to 1000 MB, so I’m going to be gradually expanding the playlist from 17 hours to 34. Along with a couple of hours of Fujieda, I put up Robert Ashley’s entire opera Improvement: Don Leaves Linda, a couple of installments of David Borden’s The Continuing Story of Counterpoint, quite a bit of Alvin Curran’s multi-hour piano piece Inner Cities, and Steve Peters’s hour-long In Memory of the Four Winds. I’m a little more tempted to put up huge works in their entirety now. Soon the station will be rotating more than a day’s worth of music, and will hopefully take a little longer to get sated with. 


  1. says

    I’ve been an admirer of Patterns of Plants for some time, since the first Tzadik recording on solo koto, and especially since I’ve read about the piano version. I’ve tried to track down the piano score now and then, but without success; do you have any contact information you can share for his publications?
    KG replies: Sarah gave me a score to the piano version, and it’s at school. I’m on fall break, but I’ll go there soon and get it and provide the information.

  2. Owen Gardner says

    I haven’t seen the score but I hear a similarity between the tunings of PoP and The Well-Tuned Piano, at least a similar prominence of septimal intervals. Are you at liberty to disclose the tuning? Either way, it’s a beautiful work, thanks for sharing.
    KG replies: It’s possible I misunderstood, but I believe the tuning is Pythagorean.