Usually when musicians invent and build their own instruments it’s to fill a specific need. When the idiosyncratic composer Harry Partch created his own 43-tone scale in the early 1940s he had to design a veritable orchestra of gorgeously sculptural instruments like the crychord and cloud-chamber bowls to bring those sounds to life. Japanese experimental musician Yosuke Fujita (who performs under the name Fuji||||||||||ta), however, was flying blind when he intuitively constructed his one-of-a-kind organ back in 2009.
While he was thinking about the Japanese traditional music known as gagaku—an ancient court music dating back 1200 years often built around breathing patterns—when he designed his instrument, he had no idea how to play it. The instrument has eleven pipes, but it isn’t controlled by a keyboard. Instead, each pipe is controlled by a hand-driven bellows modeled after the tools used by blacksmiths. He spent more than a decade experimenting with and learning the idiosyncrasies of his organ, and by the time he released his acclaimed 2020 album Iki he had clearly mastered his invention. The album’s four extended pieces can be related to the recent trend of spectral organ music being produced by the likes of Kali Malone, Ellen Arkbro, Áine O’Dwyer, and Maria W Horn, but there’s something exquisitely hand-crafted about his gently undulating excursions, particularly the steady click of the air pump he presses to keep the instrument breathing.
Occasionally, as on his 2021 album Noiseem, Fujita enfolds field recordings and other ambient sounds within his meditative organ soundscapes, but the instrument’s sonic heartbeat resides at the core of everything he does. In his hands this peculiar device delivers a deeply human kind of music akin to the way instruments powered by human breath are limited by lung capacity. The pump clicks and the comforting warble of his instrument remind us what it’s like to be alone and tapped into the most basic functions of our bodies.