I can’t remember how long ago it was now when I walked into the Montreal record store Phonopolis and, over the sound system, heard a record I absolutely loved. The album was Rice Field Silently Riping In The Night by Reiko Kudo. It is an album I have come back to again and again. Not a year goes by in which I don’t listen to it at least a few times, and often many more.
Around that time, I wrote to a Japanese friend to ask her if she’d also heard it. I was surprised when she wrote back suggesting an artistic collaboration between Tori Kudo and myself. I was already in the process of listening to absolutely everything I could find by both Tori and Reiko. The owner of Phonopolis was also obsessed with their music so it was possible for me to find almost everything they’d put out.
From January 24 to February 23, 2012, I went to Matsuyama and Kochi to begin working with Tori and figure out what we might do together. Tori suggested we begin by making pottery, something that not only had I never done but in fact had never even considered. Over a month I got to know Tori a little bit and we made some things. I have previously written that “all the artists I admire are such a strange combination of completely open and completely stubborn,” and Tori might be the perfect example of this phenomena. (Of course, the same might be said about me.)
The music of Maher Shalal Hash Baz represents for me some kind of perfect balance between structure and freedom, between pure music and impure anarchy. Tori’s complex, and at times self-defeating, virtuosity meets the energizing non-virtuosity of so many different band members over such an expanse of years, each member twisting the project ever-so-slightly in their own direction. It is classical pottery full of spirited cracks, with the cracks built in, pushing forwards and retreating against the pure timeless spirit of rock ‘n’ roll and glorious punk.
Reiko Kudo’s music feels, to me, timeless in a different, perhaps deeper, sense. Timeless like dust. Like gold dust. Fragile melodies from multiple other worlds. You can hear Tori’s anarchy informing the background and yet it is clear that Reiko is so precisely and delicately in charge. I of course don’t understand Japanese so I often don’t know what she’s singing. But like the very best singers somehow I do know what she’s singing because I imagine that I can feel it through and against the limits of language.
I do of course know what Momus is singing. More so than with most singers because I have so many of his old songs memorized or almost memorized, like they have been with me from almost before I was born. There was a period of my life – the period in which I wrote many of the songs from Every Song I’ve Ever Written – in which I listened to Momus every day. There were many, many days in which I listened to nothing else. With Momus I imagined the pop song as a literary novel, the pop song as a philosophical tract, the pop song as perverse détournement of everything else that wasn’t a song by Momus.
And speaking of a perverse détournement: in Tokyo it is very possible we will have Momus performing the songs I wrote twenty-five years ago which were, at the time, almost completely inspired by Momus. (But, then again, he might also choose different songs.) My teenage self could have never imagined things coming full circle in quite this way. A story of time travel that is almost, but not quite, worthy of a Momus song.
Every Song I've Ever Written will be performed at Sound Live Tokyo on Sept 17 & 18, featuring Momus, Reiko Kudo, Maher Shalal Hash Baz & The Hardy Rocks (Keiji Haino).
You can listen to the Momus covers here.
And find a playlist of my favorite Tori, Reiko and Maher Shalal Hash Baz tracks here.