Tone Glow 032.4: Tori Kudo
An interview with Tori Kudo for a special midweek issue
Tori Kudo began performing music in Tokyo in the 1970s. He has collaborated with his wife Reiko Kudo for more than four decades. Using the band name Noise, they released their first album 天皇 (meaning Emperor) in 1980. Since then they have produced innumerable solo releases as well as several albums of original compositions performed by themselves, and a naïve orchestra called Maher Shalal Hash Baz. Forrest McCuller corresponded with Tori Kudo for several days to produce the following interview. The questions were translated from English to Japanese using Google Translate before they were sent, and the replies were sent back each time in English. The results have been reverse-translated where necessary, and lightly edited for clarity.
Forrest McCuller: How was your childhood? When did you start playing music?
Tori Kudo: When I was born the scars of World War II still remained. There were many movie theaters and individual shops in the town. Eventually, with the advent of large supermarkets and the spread of cars, the town’s shopping districts disappeared. Craftsmen such as blacksmiths and plasterers were gone. At the end of the Vietnam War chemical fertilizers and pesticides were produced by the raw materials that the United States pressed against Japan, and many organisms such as insects were killed. As the riverwall construction work progressed, eels stopped climbing the river. For music, I learned organ from the age of two and a half.
How did you start playing experimental music?
I don’t know why, but I thought the world did not deserve me.
Was it a way to withdraw from normal work?
I had been a construction worker but I’m now a driver of a library car. Did you know John Cage was a driver of a school bus?
Many experimental music and noise were recorded in Japan in the 1960s and 1970s, but still rare in Britain and the United States. Why do you think it became popular in Japan so quickly?
Although the Far East underground as a fringe would have looked like a frontier of music, it was just by dé-re-territorialisation under too deep reading and misreading of Western trends. It meant that Europe found its own strange shadow of itself as an other cape.
I understand what you mean except for the expression “an other cape.”
L’autre cap is from Derrida.
When you met Reiko Kudo, do you think it was easy for the two of you to collaborate?
I found Reiko was a real poet, so it was easy for me to play with her.
In my experience, creative people are often at odds. They are often competitive over ideas of creative control. If that was not the case between the two of you I wonder if you have insights as to why?
Insights came later. I was in struggle, yes. But that led me to explore the issue of the organizational theory of anarchism.
Was Maher Shalal Hash Baz the result of anarchist organizing principles from the beginning? What principles did you get into the habit of using?
It was an inverted triangle, after a study of Eastern Asian, anti-Japanese armed front and NY punk.
You were a member of an anti-Japanese group. In an interview with MTV Europe, you mentioned your involvement in a plan to “[assassinate] the emperor.” Was the group you associated with part of the Japanese Red Army? I’m wondering this because of their relationship with Les Rallizes Dénudés.
I was influenced by a thinker named Ryu Ota. Yes, there were many acquaintances in the Red Army.
What happened with the plot against Hirohito? Could you tell me that story?
Some of the members pretended to be campers on the river beside the railway bridge and ambushed the royal train, but they were checked by the police and the plan failed. After that, volunteers from the Ainu and Okinawan gathered and talked about killing all the Japanese people, but they ended up getting drunk.
When I was at a publisher called Black Front, my boss was detained for throwing feces on the emperor’s face, but it was for making himself more important among the anarchists.
Was your life affected by this? Did you withdraw from this type of insurgency? And if so, why?
The issue shifted from east-west confrontation between workers and capitalists to north-south confrontation between ethnic groups, but in the 1980s, the left-wing interest shifted to carnivorous breeding and single plantation. At that point, I lost interest in human autonomy.
Even my Ryu Ota turned to sad conspiracy theories like, “The city is dominated by reptile humans” or “Her Majesty is eating children.”
I think conspiracy theories are often created to confuse movements. Even if they are true, they distract attention from structural analysis and sincere reactions. Do you think the strong personalities within these political groups are overemphasized?
All the organizations I was involved in were unable to stand due to human imperfections.
How did it work?
By pride and libido.
Has your dedication to music become more intense after withdrawing from these movements?
It changed with Return Visit to Rock Mass. It’s like approaching with giving up. Like quantum movement, regardless of proximity or distance.
Is it difficult to get the other musicians to give up before starting?
There was no musician to me.
I’m wondering about this. How did you teach the music to the other musicians? Can they all read music?
I have often not written scores. I have them imitate my humming. They do not participate as musicians.
Do you just ask your friends to join?
I have been recruiting people by announcement before each concert. Many “musicians” come.
Was it the same when recording a studio album?
Return Visit to Rock Mass is mostly overdubbed by playing instruments by myself.
Did you have any formal training as a composer? Many people are overwhelmed by the process of composing for multiple instruments.
I have never practiced any instrument other than the piano. I just check the range of the instrument.
Do you listen to a lot of music made by others? John Cage said in an interview he does not. He sits listening to the noises in his house when he’s not making music.
My car’s audio had broken and the CD was stuck inside, so I had only been listening to a Peter Ivers bootleg. Once I tried to take it out, but it broke further more, and I could only listen to the radio for years. I have a record player at home, but I’ve only used it a few times. Car radio is always boring. I would kill all J-pop vocals.
Write a manifesto. Maybe it can be done. Do you think that you lived and created art in a way that everyone can find fun when someone tries it, or is it the result of a calling?
It’s just the result of Tesco’s BGM rushing into my head
Did you become more religious over time? Can you talk about your faith?
Soon, a safety declaration on corona and disarmament will be issued centering on the US and Russia. China is not the protagonist. Most people rejoice and abandon their faith in the way.
Sorry. I don’t understand Can you explain a little more?
Soon, a “peace and security” declaration on corona and disarmament will be issued centering on the US and Russia. China is not the protagonist because it is not the king of north at the moment. Most people rejoice and abandon their faith in the way. Then, the end comes. This is my “faith.”
The end of history?
The end of nations.
How do you celebrate?
It’s great tribulation. We can not celebrate it at all. We just die.
Purchase Tori Kudo’s music at Bandcamp.
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