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.