Tori Kudo’s GALA-KEI: Galapagos Cellular Phone Punishment by Keith Connolly

Part of the Editor's Choice series.

BOMB 145 Fall 2018
Bomb 145 Nobarcode Small
Kudo 1 Cmyk

(Bruit Direct Disques, 2018)

Ever the reductionist, three decades deep into a sprawling, marrowy discography, Japanese noise legend Tori Kudo has produced what he’s called a “life work” that, unsurprisingly, defies simple classification. Though inextricably linked to the shambolism of his flagship “naivist” group Maher Shalal Hash Baz, GALA-KEI constitutes a kind of groupthink pre-roll, capturing (s)trains of elemental sound-thought in transit over quite literally vanished tracks—a game of Chinese whispers resulting in a fleeting tone-poem possessed of an odd, lilting grace.

It begins with an establishing shot, exterior: the iconic image of Yukio Mishima by photographer Eikoh Hosoe from his 1961 portrait Ordeal by Roses #32, though the titular petaled pacifier is here occluded by a Razr-like flip phone. A pun, likely lost on most gaijin, exists between Bar ra kei (Ordeal by Roses) and GALA-KEI, referring to the Galápagos Syndrome phenomenon of regionally specific jacked-up “feature phones” common in late-aughts Japan: pre-smartphone, pre-metadata cheek swab, etcetera. This sets an apropos tone for what follows via the album’s contents. Employing a not-so-elaborate system of relayed voice messages and a reverse-proportion nostalgia for recently obsolete media, a reverie of cyclical song segments takes shape: first Tori hums a wordless voice-memo and sends it to Ai and Mari Geshi, his distant neighbors in Wakayama; then mom and daughter parrot back to him the same tune (occasionally adding bits of toy xylophone); finally, this snippet of audio is learned by a need-to-know-basis configuration of MSHB and performed live at JAM in Shinjuku on October 26, 2014 (their thirtieth anniversary show).

All of this has been meticulously edited into a sequence of stories that plays out over two 45-rpm 12-inch records, and it feels like the ghost of Jackson Mac Low inhabiting some hypothetical audio Instagram in a near-but-never-happened past. And lastly, a supercut comprised of all fifty-five tracks, recursively combined into a twelve-minute CD, functions as an exhale, revealing, like the punchline to an incomprehensible joke, an acute compositional complexity.

A time and date log of each track completes the package, running as barely readable black-on-black gossamer credits to a clandestine documentary listing Tori Kudo as “Director.” While this disappearing text conjures forgetfulness, the listener is left with more than a mnemonic device, something lovely in its vérité and mannered digression. And while other albums bear some formal resemblance—Amon Düül’s Experimente and Harry Pussy’s Vigilance! come to mind—none evince the socio-technological transposition or diaristic tack at work here. Also, none play like this one—a carousel of forgotten melodies in multiple states of becoming. In short, GALA-KEI is a thrice-lived “life work,” and a third-act magnum opus from a legacy artist in a class entirely his own.

Keith Connolly is a contributing editor for music at BOMB.

Originally published in

BOMB 145, Fall 2018

In the process of putting together each new issue of BOMB, we often come across distinct resonances between interviews—shared themes, creative preoccupations, and even specific phrases crop up time and again within otherwise disparate features. In these pages, artists discuss their expansive notions on collaboration. Their practices tend to split, reapportion, or redefine authorship, privileging process over individual intention and encouraging unique partnerships with spectators, local communities, film subjects, and one another. These willful acts of reaching out and beyond are as vital as ever, and worth emphasizing here.

Read the issue
Bomb 145 Nobarcode Small