Thursday, June 13, 2019

New Satoko Fujii Album Inspired by Deafness

courtesy of Braithwaite & Katz Communications

Those who have followed this site for some time probably know of my efforts to provide a thorough account of Satoko Fujii’s “Kanreki Cycle,” a series of twelve albums released month by month to honor the year of her 60th birthday. This past Friday Libra Records, her “home” label, released her latest album, a solo performance of fifteen short pieces collected under the title Stone. Readers may also recall that has had an on-again-off-again relationship with Libra, meaning that finding any of Fujii’s recordings on their site is (in the immortal words of Ira Gershwin) a “sometime thing.” Consequently, the most reliable way to order a copy of Stone is through the CD Store Web page on the Web site for Libra Records.

The booklet that comes with this album includes an essay by Fujii that describes the emergence of her “post-Kanreki” thinking. The key paragraph is the following:
In the course of releasing those twelve albums, I sometimes felt that if I saw the entire project through to the end, it would leave me at a loss as to what to do in the future. But strangely enough, at the end of those twelve months, I had an even clearer idea of what I wanted to do next. It was as if a fuzzy image in my mind had come into sharp focus. I made this solo recording right around the time the fuzziness began to clear up.
That clarity arose from reflecting on a paradox. Her grandmother had gone completely deaf during the final years of her life, communicating only through writing. One of her communications included the sentence:
Now I can hear beautiful music the likes of which I never heard before.
This inspired Fujii to seek out just what her grandmother had been hearing.

It is tempting to associate the title of the new album with the phrase “stone deaf;” but I have to confess that I have no idea whether Japanese shares that metaphor with the English language. Nevertheless, the titles of the first fourteen compositions on the album are all geological in nature, referring to either formations or specific types of rock. The final track, on the other hand, was composed by bass player Norikatsu Koreyasu and was given the title “Eternity,” which has its own connotation of “geological time.”

Whether or not any of these fifteen pieces are either explicitly or implicitly “geological” is left for the listener to decide. What is most important is that the album is a journey through a diverse collection of sources of sound, which are derived from almost all of the different physical properties of the piano itself. Many of these sounds are extremely subtle and are therefore only audible by virtue of sensitive microphones and amplifiers. Indeed, the sonorities of the second piece on the album, “Trachyte,” may have come from feedback based on very subtle (sympathetic?) vibrations of the piano strings. Trachyte is a conglomerate igneous volcanic rock, meaning that it consists of a matrix that was once molten lava into which a variety of different minerals have been embedded. Perhaps Fujii’s intention was to treat the body of the piano as the matrix in which are embedded the “natural” sonorities that one actually hears.

The idea that the piano is more than what one can play at the keyboard is hardly a new one. It dates back at least to the early days of John Cage’s interest in all-percussion music. The story goes that Cage grew tired of having to move large numbers of percussion instruments around each time he gave a recital. This led him to wonder if he could play his percussion music on a piano, and that wondering led to the invention of the “prepared piano” as we now know it.

Fujii’s music, on the other hand, is not that of a percussionist in search of a more conducive medium. Rather, one might say that the music on this album is a product of an almost “scientific” inquiry into the nature of sound and its origins. That inquiry may have been motivated by an attempt to capture “beautiful music the likes of which I never heard before;” but it ultimately emerged as the latest disciplined investigation of how a piano can be “more than a piano,” so to speak.

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