an interview by mail, on G-Modern
In our endless quest to bring you in-depth interviews with people you’ve never heard of, the next candidate is Japan’s Tori Kudo. Who? Go check your copies of Tokyo Flashback volumes 2 and 3. Remember the annoying tracks on there that sounded like euphonium-driven versions of summer melodies that you never gave a second listen to? By some group with a weird name? They were one of his, and the group was called Maher Shalal Hash Baz. In certain quarters of the Japanese underground, Maher are more than just another household name, they’re a legend onto themselves. A legend built upon a couple of tapes distributed only at gigs, an LP in an edition of 100, and a financially forbidding 3LP/3CD box set on low-profile Osaka imprint Org Records called Return Visit To Rock Mass. You should try and make it one of your priorities to hear the latter. Maher’s most recent releases are a 60min CD “single” on the Puka-Puka Brains imprint, Majikick, and an upcoming retrospective on the UK Domino label.
Kudo himself has been a central, yet black-cat-in-a-coalshed obscure figure since the late seventies. He was a prime-mover in the experimental rock scene centred around the coffee-shop cum afterhours live venue, Minor (a scene that also nurtured the talents of Kosokuya, Munehiro Narita and Asahito Nanjo of High Rise, Gaseneta, Tamio Shiraishi, Rotting Telepathies and Keiji Haino, amongst many more you won’t have heard of). In that incestuous scene, Kudo led a plethora of hardly-recorded bands like the shambolic no-wave Guys ‘n’ Dolls, Snickers, the shambolic Alan Vega tribute band Tokyo Suicide, and the shambolic Velvet-melodious Sweet Inspirations. Some of them are dubiously documented on Nanjo’s Daiyon Kobo cassette imprint.
Some interest was possibly stirred by the reviews of Kudo’s wife Reiko’s disk, Fire inside my hat, and the reissue of the legendary Noise record (also the Kudos) that appeared in the last issue of Opprobrium. Since then a certain D.Keenan had the gall to review the Maher triple set in The Wire (a mere two and a half years after it came out). He memorably described Maher’s music as “primitive yet deeply affecting schoolyard psychedelia like a collective of 12 year old melancholic shaman.”
As befits his revered status in the Japanese underground, G-Modern did an interview with Kudo a few years back before Maher’s triple masterpiece appeared (and before Kudo left Japan for the benighted shores of the UK – note: the Kudos have since returned to Japan). The bizarre results of that interview are here translated for your education and delectation.
Questions by: Shinji Shibayama1 and Ikuro Takahashi; G-Modern
Translated by Alan Cummings
Q1: What does rock mean to you? Also, how does that meaning relate to jazz?
Takahashi’s passion for rock consumes him
As a man who has devoted himself to rock, he challenges me
That challenge is like incense rising from the altar of rock
Concerts and rock magazines are Takahashi’s priests
Bearing a sacrificial lamb Takahashi goes to his priest
The blood of sacrifice sprays over the altar
As the fat is burnt away, the demon standing behind
rock and boogie, dressed as the angel of light, is the first to eat
Next the priest and his kin take as their share
the breast and right leg of Takahashi’s lamb
and are assigned their place at the table
Finally, by eating the left leg of his communal lamb
Takahashi too is alloted his place at the table
True, Takahashi continues to nurture himself at that table
But his presence at dinner is now an obligation
But he does not attend as a guest – Takahashi himself
Is the main dish to be served
And in reality it is the birds that eat
I warn Takahashi to renounce rock now.
It is not just heavy metal that leads to patricide and
matricide; all rock from the Stones to noise
ultimately leads to that end.
I have seen the heart of rock and boogie
Q2: What did the late Aquirax Aida mean to you? (the surmounting of nihilism?)
In order to resolve the questions posed by improvisation, the only thing one can do is reduce time because it is torn to shreds by improvisation. Through doing that we can return improvisation to its rightful position. Improvisation which anticipated a new and proper horizon has never existed, and I am unable to accept the rationale that sees hope in improvisation. It was totally meaningless to ever connect improvisation with the theory of spiritual and artistic evolution. Many people have been struggling just to stay afloat. Freedom is not something that you attain, it is something that you are given. Improvisation will only become perfected when we have won the battle against our future enemy, death.
Q3: Why do you so stubbornly insist upon originality? What does originality mean to you? Is it because you lack confidence in yourself?
Why do birds sing? Does their song have any meaning? How does each bird learn how to sing in a different way?
The dawn and evening choruses are the most energetic, and at these times almost all the songs we hear are those of male birds. These songs possess two layers of meanings, just like XX. The first meaning is a strongly-worded warning to other males not to cross another bird’s territory. The second meaning is an invitation to female birds like XXXX of marriageable age. In a similar way to the XXXX, each bird creates a song that will mark its territory. In human terms this is similar to a local accent existing within the same language. This unique courtship song, that could also be likened to a local dialect, is only sung at other male birds like XXXX who enter into the territory. The most energetic and complex warbling can be heard during the mating season. Just like XXX this song is a show designed to attract a female.
In a similar way to how XXXX alerts his friends to his presence, by the pitch of their song, male birds make their presence known to their rivals. In addition, just like XXXX, birds that are brightly coloured and that live in open areas clearly sing only when they need to defend their territory. On the other hand, like XXXX, birds whose colouring matches their surroundings or who live deep in the forest where there is little chance of discovery, are able to sing as loud as they like.
At times the sounds that birds make cannot be described as song – rather, like XXXX, they are merely exchanges of information with other males, or else like XXXX they short signals that tell other birds to flock together. They can act as a warning of approaching danger, and like XXXX they can also be a signal for the birds to flock together and attack cats or other interlopers. Similar to XXXX, the song of birds can communicate feelings such as anger, fear, or movement, and they also tell that two particular birds are mated.
There is much to suprise us in the sound-making mechanisms of birds. Like XXXX, some birds are able to emit three or four separate sounds at one time. Like XXaX X-X-, there are some birds that can produce up to eighty sounds per second. To human ears this sounds like one continuous sound, but birds that possess an acute sense of hearing like XXXXX are able to distinguish the separate sounds.
Researchers have investigated whether birds are able to understand music or not. Can birds distinguish the difference between a Bach organ song and Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”? Researchers tested four pigeons by playing them Bach and Stravinsky, and devised a system of two round buttons where the birds would receive food as a reward if they pecked at the button corresponding to the music currently being played. In a short time the pigeons were able to press the correct button to distinguish between all the sections of a twenty minute piece by Bach. With some few exceptions the birds were even able to distinguish between similar works by different composers.
There is even one species of tropical bird that is able to compose by itself and then sing in a duet like XXXX. Like XXXX the two birds get together and hold a rehearsal where they try singing together and in a call and response style. They try out various different styles before they arrive at a composed song. They way they sing is very precise, just like XXXX, and to the untrained ear it sounds like just one bird singing one song. Each bird is able to sing the other’s parts, and when their partner is not present they are able to sing the whole piece as a solo. This unique ability, similar to XXXX, would seem to aid the birds in finding and verifying their partners in the dense rainforest.
A certain British scientist noticed that there was a certain familiar sound in the songs of several song-thrushes. He recorded their songs, analyzed them electronically, and was startled to discover that these sounds were extremely similar to the ringing-tone used by the most common type of phone in the UK. It would seem that these song-thrushes learnt the sound of ringing telephones and added it to their repetories. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that there some pupil of XXXX who heard the song of these song-thrushes and wrote a piece based on the sound of ringing telephones.
We are still discovering how birds learn how to sing and how they compose their songs, but one thing is beyond doubt. Namely that they use a variety of different methods and strategies.
The male bluebird, like XXXX, is born with the knowledge of how to sing, in part at the very least. Like XXXX, even if it is raised totally seperately from other birds, while the way it sings will be different from normal, the number of sounds and their lengths are vitually identical to those of other birds. However, in order for the bird to develop a regular singing style, like XXX while still immature it must hear the song of another male bluebird twice in different seasons. Then, in a similar way to a human professional singer, the bird must practise continuously and hone its skills. Like XXXX, the bird must practice again and again attuning its immature voice to the sounds that it wishes to produce.
If the snow-princess bird is unable to learn the normal way of singing, like XXXX it creates its own unique style. However if it hears the simple, unaffected warbling of another snow-princess, like XXXX it immediately abandons its own style of singing and begins to sing like the other snow-princess. On the other hand, like XXXX the Mexican snow-princess is inspired to creativity when it hears the song of the regular snow-princess. It doesn’t imitate the song, but rather, like XXXX, its creativity is piqued and it begins to create its own unique singing style.
The strongest evidence to suggest that the way a bird will sing is determined by its DNA lies in the cuckoo egg phenomenon. Like XXXXX, the cuckoo lays its eggs in another bird’s nest, and has that bird roost and raise the cuckoo chicks. How do these cuckoo chicks know that they are different from their adopted parents, and that they should not sing in the same style? There is little doubt that the cuckoo’s unique song is inputted into its DNA from before the time it is born. In most cases, questions about the way a certain bird will sing belong to the field of genetics. Even if a bird has never heard the song of its own species, it does not attempt to imitate the song of a different species. Certain scientists believe that the vague pattern for a bird’s song is inputted into its brain, and like XXXXX, when it hears the song of another bird that comes closest to that pattern, it begins to imitate it.
Like XXXXX, birds have wonderful brains that allow them to be both composers and imitators. The naturalist Fernando Nautbaum discovered that the left and right sides of birds’ brains have specific functions to fulfill, and that there is a certain segment of their brains that is designed for remembering how to sing. From studying young male canaries it was discovered that, like XXX, during the mating season this part of the brain expands and contracts, depending on whether the bird has to learn a new type of song. Like XXXX, canaries attempt to sing from an early age, but like XXXX they are unable to sing properly until they are eight or nine months old.
There are also birds that are particularly good at changing the melody they sing. Like XXX, they hear and borrow the song of another bird, polishing it by changing the arrangement of the notes and the rhythm. From ancient times people have been fascinated by birds that are skilled at imitation – ie “birds that talk”, in other words, like XXXXX, birds that have the ability to mimic human speech. Amongst these mimics of the bird world are the laughing kookaburra of Australia, the marsh reed-warbler and starling of Europe, the great American insect-eater and mimic-thrush of North America. The mimic thrush has many different sounds in its repetoire, and is able to mimic the sounds of frogs and crickets. It is interesting to listen to the cheerful song of this thrush, similar to that of XXXXX, as it is actually a medley of the typical songs of several different species of birds.
One thing is certain – namely that composition and imitation can take many different forms. I believe that is a good thing.
Q4: In the sleeve-notes to the Maher Shalal Hash Baz record released in 1991, you wrote that you had finally woken up to the importance of relating to other people when you turned thirty. In that case, was the relationship between the members of Maher up until then similar to that between a general and his troops?
Uta Suzuki would appear at the pub Tanuki every night, order one stick of grilled chicken6, put a 100 yen coin down on the counter and then sit there until closing time. During the day I’d see her by the roadside, piling up dirt into skirt and then carrying it back to her apartment. When she arrived, she’d fling the dirt over the floor of her room. There were bits of ripped up paper and other assorted junk all over the floor, but no one was allowed to touch or move them. And you weren’t allowed to close the windows either. The wind blew the rain into the room and rusted a Fender Rhodes that I’d lent her. Periodically she’d call me up in tears saying that she couldn’t pay her rent, but if anyone were to get worried and call her she’d brusquely reply that it was none of their business. When she showed up at the studio, sometimes she’d have practised the music I’d given her, and other times she’d just sit there without saying a word. At those times, afterwards she’d tell everyone that I’d bullied her. She liked Steve Lacy, and whenever he came up in conversation she loved to tell the anecdote about him playing sax with the waves. Her rank in the band was well above of that of Masahiro Shinoda. Shinoda was in the habit of saying “I can’t get that sound by hook or by crook”. A girl called Kaoru who played with us two or three times told that if anyone were to play his/her soprano normally it would sound like Lacy. As a mark of a respect for her help I composed a song called “Kaoru”. Anyway, the solos that Uta Suzuki would play on “Black-eyed Susan” and “goodbye” contained the most amazing intervals. Her tone sounded, if anything, like a flying pineapple spliting itself open from the inside. I think that she’s still in hospital, but one night she called up Nakazaki and said that she’d recently written a song and that she didn’t know if we were still together but she’d like Maher to play it. She sang the song into his answer-phone – it was just a three-note melody. The other day when I was walking in the mountains I sang it as a duet with the birds, and I thought to myself that this is far better than improvising with human beings. Anyway, it was the same melody.
As for my relationship with the other members of the band, I can only explain it in the same way.
Q5: Do other people matter to you?
Q6: What do you think of yourself?
Q7: Do you like sex?
Q8: What do you think of Reiko Azuma?
Around 1982, when I was living in an apartment in Sakamachi in Yotsuya, one day she suddenly appeared at my door and said my apartment was the only place she could relax and since she had no other place to read could she borrow it? I had to leave there and then, and spend half the day walking around. When I came back, she thanked me and gave me 5000 yen. Thanks to that money I was able to eat for a few days. Several years later I discussed this incident with a mutual friend and they said they couldn’t believe that someone as stingy as Reiko Azuma would do something like that. Maybe the reason she liked my apartment was because I always had a rope hanging from the ceiling to hang myself with.
Q9: How do you feel now about the fact that Mitani left the band?
Q10: What is your current opinion of Keiji Haino?
Q11: Tell us about Mitani and the role and position he played within Maher.
I was looking for a bassist. I had heard about Mitani from Junko Shinozaki who said that she had bumped into him in Kabuki-cho and that she thought he looked like Tom Verlaine. So I had imagined that he had a long neck, but when I actually got to meet him he looked more like John Cale. I first talked with him at Inkstick in Roppongi – Midori Fujisawa introduced me to him. She had told me that he really liked a song of mine called “Manson Girls”, that he would listen to a tape of it over and over again, so he would probably be overjoyed to play bass in the band. I was playing a commercial gig at the time, so I showed up directly from work still dressed as a Turkish slave and we exchanged a couple of words. We had already played together once before at Hakkyo no Yoru in Aoyama, when I was doing guest vocals in one of Red’s groups. I had sung a slow song called “To Alan”, and he had played bass – he played it like an aggressive, fast guitar solo all the way through the song. According to Ikuro Takahashi, Mitani had just changed from playing guitar to playing bass. Much later I finally got to hear his guitar playing on the “Special Night” flexi-disk. The way he played a single-note vibrato somehow changed the embarrassment of Television into the tea-ceremony. He argued persuasively to me about the wonderfulness of Sterling Morrsion’s guitar playing, and about the new direction that Richard Lloyd’s “Days” pointed towards. He never once played guitar in front of me, not even in fun. At home he would always wear kimono, and imitate Chishu Ryu. I used to like reading the evening paper that he always left in his toilet. Whenever I asked him to record something for me he’d always fill up the blank spaces on the tape with Chris Speddings’ “Guitar Jamboree” or something by Steve Harley. He’d show me videos of weird films with Lou Reed in them and cable television programs presented by Peter Ivers. Every time I’d pass by Tanuki I’d see the back of Mitani and Takahashi sitting at counter. They’d be saying stuff like “I went to Ome by train”, and it always reminded me of a manga called “Burai no omokage” (Shadow of a ruffian). He liked Dazai and said he wanted to study the Bible. He’d even read “Tapping the source” by Kem Nunn. I thought to myself that he’s someone who will flirt with sin for the rest of his life. He used computers to do difficult book binding jobs. He’d first come up to Tokyo after reading that article about Kadotani in “Heaven”, so I think that he must have got work from those kinds of publishers. He never mentioned anything about it to me, but I think that a lot of the work he had to do was very unpleasant. He got divorced and then opened an office in Shinjuku with a friend. They called their company Bad Nice, but his partner died and Mitani got saddled with the debt. He started babbling that he was going to run off to the Gotou-islands and become a fisherman. He took his mind of things by helping out a Kansai theatre company called Ishinha, so he used to go to Kansai quite often. The final gig he played with us was at Gospel. He turned into J.J.Cale that night. I gave him the Mick Farren “Playing with fire” single and he was really pleased with it. It seemed like a good way to part.
When we were recording the album Shibayama really praised Mitani’s bass work. I came to realize how good he was myself after he’d stopped coming and I had to play the bass parts. The way he played bass that time we played together at Hakkyo no Yoru displayed the same self-awareness that I heard in his single-note vibrato on the flexi-disk. When he acquired that technique that always accompanies a bassist’s unique type of humility, the fact that he’d had to altruistically discard many things permeated every note that he produced from his bass. While he was doing that through music, I was doing the same kind of thing in other parts of my life. When he asked me about how I compose, and I told him that I didn’t write songs for myself, that I wrote songs that I thought the other members of the group would enjoy, he got depressed and told me that I was lying and that writing your own songs couldn’t possibly happen that way. Then he closed his office and started doing other work outside of what he thought of music. Recently he went to Mongolia as a roadie for some band or other, and now he’s living in Yokohama. I heard that he recently remarried, to the daughter of a guy who owns a bar.
Q12: What is your opinion of Hadaka no Rallizes now?
Q13: What sense do you have of Mayo Thompson as a rival?
Q14: What does marriage mean to you?
Q15: Tell us about the origins of the name Maher Shalal Hash Baz.
If you want to know what it means, you should go to the Kiinokuniya book store in Shinjuku and read Isaiah 8:3 from the Catholic Jerusalem Bible. It should say “speedy quick spoil booty”. The prophecy contained in this name is that before a certain child is able to cry out father or mother, the King of Assyria shall make him a slave to Damascus and Sumeria, the enemies of Israel. If you were to alter the situation to that of today, I suppose it would mean something like “America and the United Nations shall destroy the Vatican”. I don’t want to have anything to do with either America or the Vatican, but I do have some little interest in the spoils and booty of music. I was sitting one day with a box full of sheet music in front of me and I suddenly thought, wouldn’t it be less sinful if I became neither Assyria nor Sumeria itself but a ship heading from Sumeria to Assyria. I now understand that I was wrong to think that. I should have played with a band in Judea.
Q16: Could you explain in more simple terms what you meant when you described Maher’s musical characteristics as “gothic country”?
A certain Russian composer said “my melodies are a sin, and chords express atonement”. In the past I felt that I was able to agree with this statement. Say for example that you’re listening to music on the radio, and then suddenly you hear a sweet, Only Ones-esque melody. For the duration of that song you can believe that the world can only exist the way it is at that moment, but if you were to suddenly inject some inharmonious sounds into that song in order to wipe out your own embarrasment, that act would only reveal the gap between your ego and the world. If you follow that idea further, you will become detached from the melody, looking down upon it. When I played with Che-SHIZU or A-Musik, I was aiming at getting the audience to understand the distance between me and the band. Attempting to dissect a melody or go beyond it by speeding it up – that isn’t music, it’s a mistaken form of penitence. I believe that kind of strained, sick view of history is based upon a mistaken understanding of harmony and polyphony. Originally religious plainsong only had the concept of singing in unison, but when the idea of polyphony and multiple melodies was developed it caused a sensation. However it also caused a heart-breaking estrangement. I believed that the idea of a bass voice singing all the way through the song developed into the substructure of Gothic music, and then eventually into the rock bass line.
However, the prevailing assumption that early music possessed only melody, with no concept of harmony is based upon very shaky evidence. Curt Sachs states that, “The deep-rooted prejudice that harmony and polyphony were special priveleges granted only to the medieval and modern Western world is not logical. It is important to understand that the music that existed in the ancient western orient was very different from that which 19th century historians were prepared to recognize as music. We do not know what that ancient music sounded like, but there is ample evidence that it contained power, dignity and authority.” (The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West, 1943). I think that the reason why I used the word gothic was because I believed that gothic music had stopped with Joy Division.
Q17: For the past ten years you’ve been playing score-based music with Maher, and also playing solo improvised piano. How do you currently view the relationship between these two?
My piano solo technique is close to the anecdote that Husymans told about cocktail piano. When you’re playing cocktail piano, it’s like each note has one type of liqueur attached to it, and when you press on the keys the liqueur flows out. So when you play “Moonlight serenade”, it’s like you’re mixing up a moonlight cocktail. Or you could also look pressing on the keys as being like drawing. You find one sound or a combination of sounds that corresponds to a certain landscape or person or event, and then you press down on those keys. A piano improvisation is like an unmodulated sketch from nature. I used to worry that settling for that definition was like sitting on the fence. Through thinking about how much one understands nature, with time I became able to take the reins of myself as a performer who embraced the negative realism aspects of jazz as the representation of personal experience.
For those monthly concerts at Goodman, I would remember sunsets that I had watched that month or specific people I had met, and sketch them out in sound. There were also a couple of times when I actually got that person to sit in the grand piano while I played. They got into the piano holding a red flag and a white flag, according to a pre-arranged cue they raised and lowered the flags.
Over the course of the next two hundred years I would like to experiment with the sounds I have chosen, and then begin to think about collective improvisation.
One of my favourites of the things I played at Goodman is called “Enzan” (Salt Mountain), a title I gave to it subsequently. All it’s about is the day that I got fired from work and I went to the hot spring baths at Enzan. The intention of the sketch was to capture the feeling of the mountains looming closer as you ride the Chuo Line out past Takao. I read a picture book by Takashi Katayama called “Yama no kaisha” that has a very similar feel to it.
Maher and the Goodman solo stuff are very different, so the audiences who come to see them are totally different too. There were always a lot of dark obsessives who seemed to come to Goodman, but they would only come for six months or so then there would be a whole new audience.
Q18: How sincere were you when you said you wanted to become a jazz pianist?
When I was child I lived in a town called Matsuyama. There was a girl there called Midori, she must have been about 26 at the time, who would take me along to see Mal Waldron or Maki Asakawa whenever they played. She took me to a jazz coffee-shop called Newport. I was learning piano at the time, and she recommended that I start studying with the owner of the coffee-shop who was a pianist of the Powell school. His technique was Bud Powell all the way, and he’d even copy the same tunes. Thanks to his influence, when I was 14 I got to play piano once during the intervals at this night-club called the Night Theatre Palace that was next door to his shop. That place was like a graveyard for clapped-out singers. I mixed with all these down-at-heel musicians who’d drifted down from Tokyo, and I got them to play some blues because that was all I could play. I can’t believe that I got paid for that. They all told me that I should go to study at Berkley or Julliard. On the same day the Yamashita Trio was playing a concert entitled “Frozen Days” – there had been a big poster for it at Newport. The wife of the guy who owned Newport gave me a tape which had my piano blues performance on the A-side, and a recording of the Yamashita Trio performance on the B-side. That made me feel like I’d become a star. When I was in my first year of high-school I got deeply into rock and started doing stuff like copying Syd Barrett’s “No man’s land”. A girl called Kurita from the same year as me started to go to Newport to learn jazz piano. After she graduated she started playing regularly at clubs around Matsuyama and appearing at jazz festivals. Even now when I hear Bud Powell, I instinctively think that I’ve got to copy whatever he’s doing.
Q19: How do you view music created from “poetic inspiration” (sweet inspiration)? Do you believe that music possesses any special power?
According to Shibayama it does.
Q20: Once, when you were still playing with Sweet Inspirations, you said that it was both strange and dangerous that music should take up the large part of your life. I believe that this statement has some link with the fact that you hardly ever perform in front of an audience now, but could you explain your thoughts on that in a little more detail.
I really like music and I enjoy playing in front of an audience, but there is a limit to the amount of time we possess. There’s an scale of priority for the things that I have to do each day, and there are some days when music is far down that list. That’s all that I meant – that there are certain days when I am unable to play. If you’re aware that there are certain things lacking in your life, then you can alter your scale of priorities. If you don’t then all you’ll ever be able to listen to is hit songs.
Q21: Do you disagree with the idea of performing or singing for some compensation (for example, money)? If so, why?
I don’t disagree with it. Music is a profession like any other.
Q22: What do you mean by “the equilibrium of an upside-down pyramid”?
In 2nd Chronicles, which tells of the history of the 10th century BC, there is a verse that reads, “Then songs began, and trumpets too, under the lead of the harp of David, the King of Israel.” This orchestra was made up of trumpets, harps, psalteries and cymbals, and then there were 120 trumpeters. Where is says that the trumpets were “under the lead of the harp of David”, I think it means that these 120 trumpets and cymbols didn’t drown out the sound of David’s strings, but were rather used in such a way as to complement it. That’s the kind of extreme balance that I was thinking about.
Q23: At this moment in time you’ve finished recording Maher’s first studio album and are currently mixing it. Could you tell us what were your intentions and aims as the composer? And in addition, to what extent were you able to realize those intentions? Also, could you tell us what the title “return visit to rockmass” signifies?
A revisiting of hidden reefs, and rock as a pillar of salt.
return visit to rockmass
A ship heading to Assyria from Sumeria ran aground on Cape Meisho. A year later I visited a coffee-shop called Cape, and there I observed a rocky place that looked like an old bossa nova record. Like the hero of “Onibi-Le Feu follet” I looked back upon my own songs and one after another they took my place and turned into pillars of salt.
Q24: Looking back now on the first Maher record (live recording of a gig in Kyoto), what do you think of it?
There aren’t that many mistakes on it. Making mistakes has always been one of the characteristics of my groups. Every time I wanted to play a different chord on stage I’d have to go over to the bass player and show him where his fingers should be, then I’d turn back to the audience again to play and sing, and the next time I played a new chord I’d have to do the same thing – that was the only way I could find to play my songs. One time I wrote the chords from C to B minor on a huge sheet of paper and stuck it to the floor of the stage. To let the bassist know I was changing chords, I’d jump from one to the next like in hopscotch. Even punks laughed at us, and it got to be that all the soundmen came to hate us too. I believed that what I was doing existed on a pre-music level, and that I couldn’t act like a pro and rehearse like everyone else. Playing a song in rehearsal killed it for when we had to play it on stage.We were the kind of band who had more songs than there are stars in the sky, but we could never rehearse. But then we were invited to play in Kyoto, we all felt like we were going into unexplored territory. We didn’t want to make fools of ourselves in front of new people so we decided to change. We placed more emphasis on the lyrics, chose some of the more rock-like songs, accepted a lot of Shibayama’s requests, came up with an effective opening sequence based on the concerts of Masaki Ueda and Ruriko Ogami whom I’d see play while I was in high-school. It was Mitani’s job to come up with these ideas. Then we actually went to a studio to rehearse three times. I started to think that it didn’t matter if the songs died a little, as long as we looked good. Just this once. That’s why that record doesn’t have so many mistakes on it. But there are some songs that aren’t pretty.
Q25: A lot of the lyrics that you sing with Maher seem to be based upon biblical texts. That’s something I don’t have any knowledge of (or interest in), but the impression I get is that there are too many thorny passages to simply ascribe to your personal study and interpretation of the Bible. How would you reply to that?
The two points that I value most about Maher is that it’s the first group with which I have been able to play my own songs (properly), and write proper lyrics. As for why I use words from the Bible, that’s because they are “quick, and powerful (enough to bewilder Shibayama), and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and are a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”. (Hebrews 4:12)
Q26: Could you explain more clearly what you meant when you said “in order to clearly discern good intentions, there is a necessity to transmit a accurate knowledge.”
When I was twenty, all the people I associated with were in their thirties, people who had been involved with the student movement. They would take me out drinking every night to Golden-gai, but they didn’t teach that that kind of lifestyle leads to you poisoning yourself and dying before you’re thirty. I lost so many friends, and that’s why I want to communicate to younger people that if they do this they’ll get sick, or if they play that kind of music things will work out this way – I want to give them accurate and correct information (epignosis). There are some older people who occasionally tell them that if they do this then things will work out this way, but in general they only have the effect of dragging people into the sphere of black and white magic. The kind of method where one person pretends to attack and another saves is really a set-up, and there was one girl who died that way. The whole idea of black seeming to attack people and white seeming to save them is a sham, and it’s a sham that kills young people.
Q27: Tell us what you think of the following bands and artists.
- Mayo Thompson
When I heard about his recent gig it sounded like he had played his last trump card to the world.
- Otis Redding
I think that the thin guitar line that comes in after he starts singing on “Dock of the Bay” is most effective.
- Mal Waldron
I like “Mal 4”.
- Syd Barrett
The kind of one-chord riffing that he would do in Stars is a technique born after all technique has been rejected at source, and it seems to create substance in front of your eyes. Like the soul food that a dancer who has lost the ground beneath his feet searches for, it was harsh food for a weakened soul. The person who is able to produce substance from energy alone is linked to sorcery, and thus that became a breeding ground for devil-worshippers.
- Lou Reed
The ancient Israelites had no conception of singing, instead they had chanting, which existed between song and recitation. It’s pitch was rather monotonous, with many repetitions and the emphasis placed on the rhythm. This kind of singing was only used for elegies. As a form, chanting placed less emphasis on musical melody or the simple adding of intonation or stress to speech, and this form was most suitable only for dirges or lamentations. Now there is a tendency to turn everything into chant – to obscure and to veil. That can bring consolation and acceptance, but it lacks a sense of hope. The current state of mind of the Jewish people is that they expect to grow outwards in every direction from one point in space, and then finally put down roots at the end. However, that goes against the rule that first there is a seed and then fruit. The legend of the New York punk scene – the vigour that comes from hanging isolated in space – owes much to Lou Reed. It begins in space from the reading of the verses of chapter 23 of the apostate Patty, and becomes as hard as a rock with Television’s “See no evil”. If you were to become an observer in New York and lurk around in corners, you’d become able to understand his songwriting methods in an instant. The street corner parade song included on Alan Vega’s first album is another example of a song sung in from the same situation. As regards driving off without hope or road before one, Poe wrote that passion is worthy of our respect. I have no doubt that even now Lou Reed still sings dishonestly about being “between right and wrong”.
- Peter Perrett
- Hadaka no Rallizes
Now that I have gained a correct understanding of absolute north, the comical nature of all lyrics about passing through darkness has been revealed to me.
- Keiji Haino
Often he speaks the truth, but his words are no more than a dogma he has arrived at through his own efforts. There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. (Proverbs 16:25)
- the reappearance of Yoshio Hayakawa
I think that “Okujo” is a wonderful song, but if it’s true that his wife is unhappy then the world can do without his songs.
- Jonathan Richman
Yuzo Iwata, who used to be a member of Maher, married a Jewish girl called Jessie, and is currently the manager of a natural food store in Philadelphia called The Essenes. He told me that he compiled a tape of live Maher material and gave it to Richman, who was supposed to have been very pleased. Jessie once said that most Americans are embarrassed by his lyrics.
- Roky Erickson
I live in Yaho in Kunitachi, so there’s a slight connection there with Yahowa 13. Professor M. Reizel stated that the original pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton was Ef-a or Yafu-a. In reply, Canon D.D. Williams of Cambridge University stated that it was Yaho. In the revised French translation there appears a note to the effect that the pronounciation Yahobe is not certain and that there also exists the possibility that it is pronounced Yabo or Yafu. A certain German scholar in 1749 wrote that, “Diodolus of Sicilty, Macrobius, Clemence of Alexandria, Saint Hieronmyus, and Origenus wrote it as Yawo. The Sumerians, Epiphanes, and Theoderotus wrote it as Yaweh, Rudrich Capel read it as Yavo, Dorcius as Yahove, Hottinger as Efuwa, Merkerz as Jehovah, Castellio as Yowa, Le Clerc as Yaho.”
- Neil Young
I would prefer believe that he sings as though there were something that needed to be sung, and plays guitar as though there were phrases that needed to be played, not because of his convictions but because of his physical make-up.
- Anthony Moore
If rock had continued to exist, he probably would have continued to exist in my mind as an existence not separate from my own.
- Fred Frith
The ability of a chef to make a full-course meal out of a mixture of ingredients depends on his culinary skills and his wisdom. Fred Frith looks upon people as ingredients. Once when we were in the studio he told that he understood how I felt. It is possible that a chef could understand the feelings of his ingredients and still become a chef, but what does he mean by treating people as ingredients? Instead of doing that, I believe he should write an enka and make Japanese play it.
- Tom Verlaine
- Jutoku Kaneko
- Hideo Ikeezumi
He believes that music possesses a certain power. Your question assumes that we possess music as a common-ground, and you are trying to ascertain if we have any mutual motivations. For my part, I even see things that appear to be self-evident, like bands, CDs, venues etc. as strange and unnatural. One day pus began to ooze out of my ears because I had to listen to hundreds of useless tapes that had been sent to Takashi Sato from all over Japan. Being the owner of a record shop is a more dangerous than being an atomic gypsy, and it’s an occupation that barely manages to survive thanks to him and others like him who share his frightening power.
- Masashi Mitani
- Hiro Nakazaki
Nakazaki came from a different cultural background from me, Mitani and Shinoda. He had never heard of either Minor or Taco. The only point we had in common was probably the Sanya Sogidan. His background was in the counter-culture scene at Wako University. Yasumi no Kuni was a self-evident band for him. He worked for a year as a fisherman, and he also travelled by himself around Asia. We got to know each other when we were working as day labourers for Ogasawara Construction. According to Nakazaki, I arrived at the building site wearing work-clothes but changed into a suit and started to work. He saw me doing this and thought that I must have a really tough time getting by in life. We got our pay at the south exit of Shinjuku Station and went off together to eat at a curry place called Haiti. That was when he told me that he had a euphonium. I told him that I dug the way the fine guitar riffing and wind instruments on Mayo Thompson’s “Dear Betty” combined with each other, and that I wanted to start a band that would aim at getting that effect. Nakazaki was a classical fan who would send in concert reviews to (classical magazine) “Ongaku no tomo”, and he was also a big Zappa freak, but I soon saw that he wasn’t a musician. He was like an academic cripple, caught between the written score and the sounds, and when he was playing he was unable to hear the other members’ sounds so he couldn’t play in a group context. That’s how we were able to able to transform all Maher’s performances into the Red Crayola’s “Coconut Hotel”. He lived in a wooden building called the Kunitachi Hall that used to be a brothel for the post-war US army of occupation. The best things about him are that he looks after many of his disabled friends, that he takes care over what he eats, and his sheep-like qualities.
- Snooks Eaglin
From his lyrics you can understand that he knows what he is doing. For example, in one of his songs that has a gospel feel and chord progressions that lead you to expect lyrics like “down by the riverside”, he deliberately sings “I don’t want to study.”
- Brian Wilson
See the liner notes for Kitchen Tapes.
Q 28: What kind of music did you listen to in your teens?
I was 10 years old in 1968 and up until then I had been forbidden to listen to popular songs. I managed to get hold of a radio and that was when I began to listen to music seriously. The sweetness and tone of voice that all the big Japanese pop singers seemed to share, Marc Bolan’s vocals, happy songs with simple chord progressions, singing in a way that somehow joined rock and doo-wop and enka, the feel of a song like “The rainbow-colored lake” where rock and Japanese pops combined, bottleneck guitars screaming like seagulls, refrains that went “from today…..”, glissandos that connect one’s natural voice to a falsetto, the feel of a thin woman screaming, the feel of an emaciated fat woman, the way Japanese folksingers would raise the ends of words when they were trying to copy Dylan, the rough sound of male chanson singers, the different feels of British and American rock bands. All of these things became fragments of nostalgia attached to my radio.
When I was in grammar school, because I played piano in a university big band I came into contact with Basie, Ellington etc. Some of the members of that big band had a smaller combo called the Eight Beats and we would get asked to play light stuff like “Unchain my heart” at summer beer gardens and kimono sales. I came up with a song that was used as a commercial for some company that was holding an exhibition on the second floor of the local agricultural co-operative. The compere for the exhibition tried to get some of the guests to sing it, but none of them would. When we played it, it turned into a cross between a nursery rhyme and trad jazz. I remember that one day my father came up with a tape of Ondeko-za, and that I was so impressed by it that I seriously thought about going to Sado Island. I also wrote down some of the local packhorse drivers’ songs in notation. We didn’t have much money so I wasn’t able to buy a record player until I entered high-school, but I remember collecting and listening to collections of folk-songs and the complete works of Satie and Furtwangler.
Eventually the big-band put out a record under the name Crash. A music critic called Yozo Iwanami was an old boy from the same university and he praised the record, saying that it sounded “rustic”. He came to my house and left me lots of review copies of records he’d been sent. I listened to some of the compilations of Delta blues, ragtime, stomp, fifties gospel and so on, and that was how I became familiar with the history of black music. I came to understand the distinctions between West Coast, cool, bop, swing etc, and I generally grasped the direction of jazz at that time. I used to put on Coltrane in the mornings, and I’d go out to school feeling like I’d had my insides blown out. My favourite place was this coffee-shop called Kouma that had a huge dark fountain and used to play tango music. From around this time I became enamoured of coffee-shops, and there was even a time when I thought I would have “Tori Kudo. He loved coffee-shops.” enscribed on my tombstone. At jazz coffee-shops I would always request Stanley Clarke’s “School Days” because I liked the title.
Q 29: What music have you been listening to recently?
Usually I don’t listen to any music
My wife’s songs
I listen to what other people put on
I listen to jazz when we’re entertaining
For myself, I repeat keyless phrases over and over
I listen to my own tunes when I’m mixing them
I listen to songs I used to like I’ve been trying to practice the violin regularly every day, being careful that I don’t spend more than a few minutes on it.
Q 30: You’ve apparently finished recording your new record. How did it go? Tell us about it, and about any interesting episodes that occured during the recording.
We only recorded about half the songs that we’d planned to. There are a lot of songs that have already appeared on other records and tapes that we omitted. There wasn’t any need to record them again, but I’d like people to listen to them once more.
Q 31: Who would you like to listen to the new album?
Shinoda’s big sister
Q32: I heard that you’d prefer not to sell very many copies of your records. Why is that?
Because I only want them to sell well in Yugoslavia.
Q33: I really like the performance of the track on Tokyo Flashback 3. What do you think of it yourself?
We got a studio musician to play the drums on “Utsubyo no kusuri” so I thought it wouldn’t be any good, but his performance wasn’t bad for one of the enemy. Nappo played some great bottleneck on “Shokokumin no yoru”. I decided to include “Intro – Yanaka” so that people could hear Uta Suzuki’s (ss) and Avibandhan’s (cello) model tuning (tuning usually kills the music before you play it).
Q34: I’d like to see Maher play live. Do you have any plans to play?
We played at an event called Soundmap at a park in Kunitachi on October 1st. I’ll send you a sketch of the score. If it’s possible to write the score after the performance has finished, it should also be possible to advertise the performance after it’s over.
Q35: Have you any plans to play a solo piano gig?
During the summer I played in a piano trio at a place called Hijiri Kogen in Nagano. If they invite me back, I’ll play there next year too. I’ll think of a method to hold down chords properly in the next couple of hundred years, but for the moment I can play single notes. Usually only two or three people came to see my piano performances at Goodman, so if there’s anyone who wants to hear me then either I can go to their place or else they can come to mine – that’d be fine. Do you think there’s anything wrong with that?
Q36: Are there any plans to rerelease the Noise/Tenno record on CD?
The original recording was mixed by GAP and pressed at Kojima Recordings, but I don’t know where the original open reel tapes have gone. If John Duncan would like to rerelease it then we wouldn’t have any objections.
Q37: Are you going to play with Che-SHIZU again?
Depending on the song I think I could play with them again.
Q38: What do you think about the current state of music in Japan?
I think that it doesn’t have any value for me.
Q39: Would you like a major label like Sony or Toshiba to release your records?
I am very sure that they wouldn’t want to.
Q40: What do you think of recent music magazines?
Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Ecclesiastes 12:12)
Q41: What do you think of recent music critics?
I liked the piece by Masaaki Hiraoka that appeared in the September 1980 issue of Music Magazine. Which reminds me, recently there is no longer anyone who writes to the reader’s letters columns of magainzes who uses the word “oira” instead of “me”. All of the current critics have become totally middle-aged, and it feels like they’re just enjoying some communication while waiting for their lives to end. The next generation are all like Kim Jong Il, and it’s impossible to expect them to be able to criticize anything.
Q42: What’s your favourite make of piano?
A brown Eastein with three carved roses.
Q43: What do you imagine yourself doing 10 years from now?
Clearing up the rubble.
Driving heavy trucks.
Still living in Kunitachi, playing “Sky High” with Nakazaki and Shinoda and Koichiro.