Fukasawa: Making Music for MUJI, Preserving CDs for Life

Fukasawa: Making Music for MUJI, Preserving CDs for Life
Point Editorial

Naoto Fukasawa’s famous, wall-mounted CD-player embeds sound into space. Hang it in a room, pull to play, and watch as it spins CDs out of obsolete oblivion. 

It’s tight, compact, and out of the way. That’s because it’s on your wall. Designed by Naoto Fukasawa for Muji in 1999, this CD-player turned our galactic, glimmering disks approximately 90 degrees and then invited us to press play with a pull cord. The world, in some way or another, couldn’t resist. 

“It kind of looks like [a] ventilation kitchen fan. People love it; I don’t know why they like it,” Fukasawa says in an interview nineteen years later. In this clip, his bewilderment around the device could refer more to the fact that even now, with a vast majority of people using streaming services to access music, it’s bizarre the object still enjoys a cult following. But then you contextualize this wall-mounted CD-player and remember just how different it truly is — different from anything music lovers had seen before, different from anything that came after. So different, but somehow so familiar. 

This dichotomous resonance was Fukasawa’s whole idea: design something that stands out in the homogenous world of audio visual equipment, but that also makes intuitive sense in terms of its relationship to people, space, and surrounding objects.

Fukasawa’s CD-player takes a familiar shape and physical concept (in this case, an extractor fan), only to reimagine it for another purpose. Tug for air, tug for music; tug for stillness, tug for silence. In turn, adjusting for music becomes as routine as adjusting for temperature: an everyday action so simple it becomes necessary, or at the very least, natural. To hear music is as thoughtless as walking by and turning on a light — no bluetooth connection required. Somehow, however, to engage with this music feels inexplicably more methodical in comparison to the experience of consuming music through a streaming application. 

Of course, this isn’t an unfamiliar topic: much attention has been paid to the supposed supremacy of vinyl in recent years. They’re more tactile, more authentic, more meaningful. They encourage you to engage with your music, to consume an entire record rather than a snippet of one. We know the arguments. And honestly, nearly all of the same arguments could also be made for the CD. Sure, there’s less of a scratchy, amber glow about CDs, but there is a distinct, holographic, “this is the millennium” kind of shimmer. Nowhere is it written that the sound of a vinyl spinning on a record player sounds objectively better than its compact cousin — both, in theory, should sound “better” than compressed digital audio files, which are, according to sound specialists, less vibrant and less complete. Both vinyls and CDs affect how we listen to music: there is no shuffle, no skipping thirty songs in one minute, and much lower levels of inherent decision fatigue. 

That said, the question isn’t about what feels or sounds better — only individual listeners can decide that. But as CDs have fallen so precipitously from grace, it is worth asking why.

If people have room for vinyl records in their two-bedroom apartments, they also have room for CDs. If millennials are nostalgic for the romanticized experience of vinyls, logic says emerging generations will also be nostalgic for the romanticized experience of CDs. A fair number of class-of-2023 teenagers already are. And maybe you are too, especially because you actually grew up with CDs; they used to mean the world to you, and you miss flipping through the lyric booklets, applying paraffin wax to scratched discs, exhaling onto CD backs and rubbing them with your t-shirt. Oh how simple and visceral things used to be. 

Fresh off memory lane, the aforementioned holographic shimmer of the CD experience might resonate even more than before. And if you want this sparkle in your life, Fukasawa’s CD-player highlights it best, even making it a “naturally occurring” phenomenon  — a current of your life, electronic and otherwise. It’s on the wall: something seamlessly integrated and remembered every time you step in the shower, boil pasta water, or watch the Roomba bump around the living room. Light’s on, shower’s on, CD-player is also on — all because you performed distinct physical motions, no touchscreen involved whatsoever. Shampoo lathers to the sound of a CD you bought in 2003. How did you forget about this song? It doesn’t matter, because you’re listening to it now. 

Unless you’re moving this thing from wall to wall, Fukasawa’s singular design connects the CDs in play with the activities and images of a single space.

In this way, it contributes to the experience of said space not just as a wall-hanging, but as a relayer of auditory stimuli — potentially changed on a routine basis, potentially not. In either case, the physicality and continuous experience of a CD (or CDs) in its entirety embeds itself into memories and perceptions of the space, operating within a given space similarly to how a light fixture, paint color, or baby grand piano might, especially over an extended period of time. In this way, the music shapeshifts — becomes perceptibly physical or tangible, even if only in your mind. It becomes an integrated part of the space and embeds music into routine, all of this simultaneously seamless and purposeful: the embodiment of some woo woo, turn-of-the-21st-century lifestyle nirvana. And if you’re lost, this whole paragraph is just an overly complicated way of saying that Fukasawa’s CD-player adds a nice touch to living spaces. It’s a touch you will remember, whether visual (the machine’s design, the spinning CD’s color gradient, etc.) or audible (the actual sounds, vintage and radio-like, emanating from the machine’s speakers). 

According to Fukasawa, Muji is one of the few companies “... that creates things that don’t run counter to how people truly feel,” which also seems an apt description for the conceptual experience of this CD-player. Its speakers won’t blow you out of the water, but you don’t expect them to. Its sound emanates from a harmonious-looking single square with rounded edges. It treats music as something to be respected, especially since in order to use it, you do have to expend extra energy in making sure you handle your CDs with care. After that, playing music — complete with a satisfying click — is only a pull away. 

Going further, this apparatus treats music as something that not only decorates our lives, but that actively plays into them. That influences or underscores the decisions we make and the feelings we have on a daily basis, thereby holding sway — in some way or another — in the way the years of our lives pass, even imperceptibly before our ears.

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