Living Music

'Living Music'

Do you remember those days in your childhood when your school class would all board a bus and head out on a class trip somewhere? Sometimes it was to something really fun like the zoo, while other times it was more vocational minded-like police and fire stations, factories, and one that I remember for some peculiar reason- a trip to the water treatment plant. As good as any of those were at the time in the short term, my preferred destination was always to museums. It did not matter what type we went to-history, science, art. There was something about the institution of a museum that always made me excited.  There were unforgettable trips to places like the American Museum Of Natural History, with its Hall Of Dinosaurs, the massive blue whale model hanging from the ceiling, and the wonders of the Hayden Planetarium, Or perhaps the Metropolitan Museum Of Art with the full scale Temple Of Dendur, and paintings that seemed to go on for miles. Places like these provided so much wonder and insight for me growing up. Ancient life and culture, and the development of art from prehistoric to modern encapsulated within the walls of a museum.

Years later the learning still continues, and to this day I remain fascinated by museums. There is really something very special about shutting out the distractions in your life and purposely deciding to go to a museum. It is a desire to want to be there, to want to be inspired by art, or to learn about dinosaurs or the cosmos or whatever it is you seek.  Just like the hushed silence one encounters before entering a church or a temple, so it is when you step foot in a museum (well maybe after one pays admission that is!) that the sense of wonder begins. Over the years in those larger museums like the Met or the Natural History Museum I have learned to scale back on cramming too much in on one day, and instead focus on what I am feeling interested in that day. Perhaps it is a special exhibit, or perhaps something from the permanent collection that I don’t know much about. That is a great thing about those types of museums once you have been there a few times. Lately though, I have felt like I have more of a positive experience overall by going to smaller museums, where the focus is on a more specific field or subject matter. Luckily, I now have one such place just down the street from me.

Last year after my wife and I had settled into our new apartment, we finally began venturing out in the neighborhood to explore. Eventually we made it to a fabulous museum that is literally at the end of our block. A world famous museum in fact in the heart of our industrial looking area, squeezed between auto body shops, welders, and construction companies. Isamu Noguchi, the Japanese-American sculptor had been both living and working in a studio in Long Island City, Queens since 1961 decided to create a museum to house some of his essential works. Opened in 1985, visitors from around the world come to see all shapes and sizes of Noguchi’s stone sculptures, scattered throughout the museum. From the first visit, the main attraction for both of us has been the sculpture garden, which as you can imagine, is a bit of an oasis in the middle of all the city life surrounding the museum. Noguchi’s own sculptures positioned with precision, yet somehow feel  organic, are interspersed between the trees, benches and bamboo plants weaving their way through the space. It is a gem of a space and we feel fortunate it is a place we can go regularly now.

Noguchi Sculpture Garden

On one visit a few months back, when the first touches of spring were beginning to tempt, we were witness to a new discovery at the museum.  It was quite different because it was not a new sculpture, but a musical discovery instead. In one of the galleries that day was the pianist Sarah Cahill, performing solo works by the Japanese composer Mamoru Fujieda.  Seated at her piano among the granite slabs carved by Isamu Noguchi were  faintly Baroque sounds resonating throughout the galleries and out into the sculpture garden itself. After reading what type of compositions Sarah Cahill was playing was when we both became really intrigued.

The collective name for the work is called Patterns Of Plants and Fujieda composed them in collaboration with Yuji Dogane who had invented a device known as the ‘Plantron’. This device ‘measured electrical impulses on the leaves of plants’. Fujieda took those impulses and ‘converted the data he obtained into sound with the programming language Max, then identified musical patterns within the sound’, using them as a basis for the compositions. My wife and I were both immediately struck by this process, and if ever a music could be called ‘living’, then surely this was it. As a photographer, I of course am inspired by plants and trees as subject matter, and I have touched on them in previous posts. But this was something entirely new, for rather than being inspired by the color and textures of plants, this was effectively the sound of a plant. And what beautiful sounds they make as witnessed by this clip of Sarah Cahill performing one of the pieces.

The compositions as a whole do not have to be played in a particular order. Fujieda likened it to arranging a bouquet of flowers- ‘one’s perspective on each piece changes depending on how other’s surround them.’ With that in mind I felt it entirely appropriate to be hearing the music at the Noguchi Museum. Almost as if the masters own sculptures were shaping the atmosphere and mood of the pieces as well. Plants go through many stages of growth and those electrical impulses that were measured with the Plantron prove that they also have a language of sorts. So to does the music. There are the notes, defined by pitch, but it is in the way those notes are performed by the individual that gives us a musical language.  A slab of granite on its own has little to say, but in the hands of artists like Isamu Noguchi, crafting and carving his work in unique patterns it too has a language to share. That is why I continue to go to museums. To keep that sense of wonder formed long ago on those class trips. To keep seeking, hearing and above it all, learning new things each and every day.

Sculpture Garden, Noguchi Museum

What new thing have you discovered in a museum recently?

Patterns Of Plants-Composed By Mamoru Fujieda

Quotes From The Program-Sarah Cahill Performs Mamoru Fujieda’s Patterns Of Plants At The Noguchi Museum-February 24-28, 2016

The Noguchi Museum-

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle







24 thoughts on “Living Music

  1. My favorite field trips were always at museums as well. And I love Mamoru Fujieda’s compositions. Coincidently, I’ve been listening to The Garden of Woods OST (I’ll leave it below). And there were moments in Daisuke Kashiwa’s work that reminded me of Fujieda. It could be the art from the animation giving me the nature vibes though. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jan

    Wow! This is so interesting 🙂 Plants a d music.. that is a winner combination. I love how you have expressed your interest for museums and art. And yeah we learn so much during each visit !!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I could really sense your love for museums in this post. I enjoy them as well so it was really easy to connect to what you were saying. It sounds like you’ve been to some pretty fascinating museums in your lifetime…so much so, that now you’d rather go someplace simple. (Feel free to come to KS :D) It’s kinda like the millionaire who gets tired of caviar, steak and lobster and just wants a plain ol’ hot dog lol. That was very magical what Sarah was doing on the Piano. My son takes piano lessons…he will be amazed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m laughing at your analogy! Plain ol’ hot dog 😄 I have been to some great ones in my time but its almost just the act of going to a museum that excites me. And yeah…that could be Kansas! Glad you liked the music-it was amazing to realize it had a Baroque feel to it. Thanks as always!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is really interesting. No wonder plants do seem to have something to do with our soul. The way your description goes, one already feels the quiet of the museum. And this image of dinosaurs I carry from a childhood trip……so much to dig into.
    That reminds me of a trip to Calcutta when very young and venturing out on my own with a cousin to the National Museum. Lot of firsts there……like boarded the metro train for the first time(Calcutta being the only city that boasted of a metro train) without an adult around and the racing heartbeat when we were inside the larger than life corridors of the museum. …….it was such a huge place!!!!
    Museums do have a profound impact on the senses as well…..its a lovely post. Very nice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Shalini first, thank you yet again. You leave such beautiful and thoughtful comments. I genuinely appreciate them all. I really found this concept amazing and the music is evocative. I love your story. I had a similar story living outside of New York City and going to the Met for the first time. I think every time I am there I somehow relive that moment. They truly are great for the senses. Thank you again!

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  5. I don’t remember a lot of the field trips we took…I know there was one to the governor’s mansion and another to the airport {I still have the wings we got from the pilot}.

    I think it’s more enjoyable to visit museums as an adult since we appreciate them a lot more than we did as kids. I also think it’s better to go with someone who shows us another perspective or vision we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

    Thanks for another great post, my friend. My apologies for being “absent” lately. I’m still here, just trying to be more active in the blogosphere after a bit of chaos…but then you knew that. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First of all thanks for the comment. Yes, I know why you were absent, but that makes me treasure your comments even more! I suppose I like museums better nowadays than when I was a kid. I just can remember (shy introvert that I am) that I always felt a bit of reverence whenever I stepped foot in one, even at a young age. I also agree that it is great to go with someone who is enthusiastic, but I fear that if I was the ‘tour guide’ it would be nothing but enthusiasm! Thank you once again!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Fired up Rob, the Tour Guide! I can just see it now. lol

        There were some really cool museums in Leeds, including the Royal Armouries. I think you would have liked that one a lot. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m sure. I’m not sure what kind of time I’ll have on my short trip to Ireland in July but I’m hoping to get to some more over there. Its also a great museum town!


  6. Aakansha

    I too remember that I’ve always had a fondness for old things. There are many aspects that entice me about history, the fact that a piece of art or craft has traveled across many a lands and sea or even lived through ages never fails to allure me.
    Same applies for old books. There is something about the worn out pages of an old book. Read, caressed and embraced by so many arms. Your post made me reckon that I haven’t been to a museum in a long while. Would make necessary amendments now! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Aakansha. I remember you saying something similar on my vinyl records post awhile back. I love old things too, and I often think about where things have been and how they traveled. A note I jotted down in my blogging thoughts journal the other day might turn into another post eventually. I was looking at an old book on one of my shelves and saw an inscription from about 75 years ago, and it gave me an idea about writing about that. Hope you do get to a museum soon! I mean there are some things I may not be interested in seeing at all, but then again, you never know until you try. Thanks as always!


  7. Wow! What an awesome idea. I’ll definitely have to check out the Noguchi Museum, which I hadn’t even heard of until reading this post. I’m also fond of the museums in NYC. Since I didn’t grow up here, I’ve been playing catch-up over the last few years. My favorites are still The Met and The Frick, but I need to branch out a bit and this looks like a great one.
    P.S. I just read an article that plants can apparently sense our touch, and the idea that they might have a sound makes me even more fond of my little friends.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I still love the Met, don’t get me wrong, and the Frick is my wife’s favorite ‘smaller’ museum. Its wonderful having so many choices in this city, be you a native, or from elsewhere. Noguchi is small, they have an exhibit going on right now by another artist which crowds out some of the permanent collection, but its still a nice place to visit. Word of advice (depending on your familiarity with the neighborhood), there is very little nearby, and its a bit of a hike from the subway. But very much worth it when you get there. And I’d love to hear about the plants sense of touch. That is really fascinating!


      1. You can get to the heart of Astoria from there pretty easily. I never went to Queens much either until we moved from Manhattan to there last year! And thank you for the article. Appreciate it.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Top Posts Of 2016 | Soundtrack Of A Photograph

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