Portland Center Stage Portland Oregon Events

Weekly preview: Fantasy object

Japanese musician Yosuke Fujita brings his custom built pipe organ to The Old Church.

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Yosuke Fujita aka FUJI​|​|​|​|​|​|​|​|​|​|​TA.
Yosuke Fujita aka FUJI​|​|​|​|​|​|​|​|​|​|​TA.

Yosuke Fujita built his first instrument for purely aesthetic reasons–or as he puts it, as a “fantasy object.” 

At the time, the Japanese artist performed mainly as a singer-songwriter and wanted to add a visual element to his gigs in the form of a backdrop of pipes, lined up vertically. “I thought that creating that landscape would change the sound of the guitar and the voice,” Fujita wrote recently via email. 

As he was mapping out his design in 2009, he purchased a copy of The Appointed Cloud, a groundbreaking drone work by Fluxus-associated sound artist Yoshi Wada, and became enamored with the thick clouds of sound created using a custom built pipe organ controlled by a computer interface. 

“The picture on it and the vision of the organ in my mind at the time,” Fujita writes, “were so similar that it felt very fateful. I think that is when I made the decision to build the organ.” 

The creation of this instrument — a keyboard-less pipe organ controlled by an air pump controlled by the left hand (always the left hand) — sparked a complete shift in Fujita’s work. Working under the new moniker of FUJI​|​|​|​|​|​|​|​|​|​|​TA, he has embraced the many possibilities of sound art and experimental music. 

A great example of this is the commission he received in 2010 from an arts festival in the Japanese city of Kofu. In many local towns, a short series of chimes is played through loudspeakers to the residents to mark the hour of 5 pm. For just over two weeks, Fujita replaced the broadcast in Kofu with an improvisation using field recordings he would capture during the day and his own instruments.

The results, released on his 2011 album hibinari, are a disorienting combination of birdsong, children playing in a park, organ drones, and off-balance bells and percussion. 

“Most people in town were puzzled by the unfamiliar chimes and sound of my organ,” Fujita remembers. “But two weeks later, a lot of people came to the place where I was playing at 5 pm.” 

Fujita’s sound world has only expanded since then. He has collaborated with some of the high priests of the Japanese experimental community–like EYE of the band Boredoms and Keiji Hain–as well as with dancers and filmmakers. And in addition to bringing his voice back into his music, he’s built a great deal of his work from elements of the natural world. 

In 2017, he presented a sound installation called Cell, which used audio of black soldier fly maggots scrabbling in dirt. More recently, he has been using water as source material. The inspiration came, in part, from a commission he received from a community center on the shores of Lake Sagami-ko in the city of Sagamihara. For that commission, he built a microphone that could be placed underwater to grab sounds from below the surface. 

Fujita has since built an instrument that uses tanks of water that he pumps back and forth and amplifies using a controller of his own devising. As heard on his most recent recording NOISEEM, the sound has a quality that lands somewhere between relaxing and disquieting as the burbles and whooshes of the liquid are joined by Fujita’s AutoTuned vocalizing and some heady soundscapes. Musical, yes, but not the kind of sounds that fit comfortably into the kinds of playlists and soothing DJ mixes where most drone music winds up. That suits Fujita just fine.

“I basically don’t have a type or genre of music I want to make,” he writes. “I’m just experimenting on my own. I like sounds anyway, so I am always looking for new sounds and always experimenting. If something musical comes out of it, I try it until it becomes my own expression.”

FUJI​|​|​|​|​|​|​|​|​|​|​TA performs at The Old Church, 8 pm, Monday June 13. TOC requires either proof of a full course (booster shots not required) of COVID-19 vaccination OR proof of a negative PCR or antigen COVID-19 test taken in the prior 72 hours. All tests must be medically administered. At-home tests not accepted.

Robert Ham is a critic and journalist living in Portland, Oregon’s outer reaches. During his time in the Rose City, he has contributed to The OregonianWillamette WeekPortland Mercury, and Portland Monthly, while also amassing a healthy amount of clips for print and online publications including PitchforkDownBeatBandcamp, and Village Voice. In 2019, he was the recipient of the SPJ Award for Best Sports Feature. In addition, Robert produces and hosts Double Bummer, a radio show focusing on new and newly reissued experimental music from around the world that airs every Tuesday night at 11pm PT on XRAY-FM. To read more of his work, visit his portfolio site or follow him on Twitter at @roberthamwriter.

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