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Croatian Amor’s New Ambient Album Is What the World Needs Now

The Danish experimental musician talks love, crossing the digital divide, and freeing records from their physical form.

by Colin Joyce
Sep 23 2016, 4:45pm

Image courtesy of the artist.

The musical output of Danish experimental musician Loke Rahbek has taken an astounding number of forms and monikers since he first began making noise as part of the duo Damien Dubrovnik back in 2009. He started the cult label Posh Isolation the same year, and in the time since has released music under the monikers 1989, Hvide Sejl, LR, Semi Detached Spankers, Croatian Amor, and his own name. He's made dystopian industrial in collaboration with Puce Mary and shattered post-hardcore as part of Sexdrome. He's played keyboards in the increasingly pop-inflected project Lust For Youth and the now-defunct grimy synth act Vår (with his longtime pal, Iceage's Elias Bender Rønnenfelt). He's contributed work to bristling collectives like Body Sculptures, Contour, Olymphia, and a host of others.

But whether he's working with busted electronics, conjuring textured drones, or crooning over a syrupy synth line, there's a magnetism that unites all of Rahbek's disparate material. No matter how harsh the music may be, there's an intangible humanity seems to sit at the center, demanding an emotional response in ways rarely associated with the academic or abstract sides of experimental music.

Rahbek's Croatian Amor project has always provided the most extreme version of this paradigm. In 2014 he released a tape called The Wild Palms that could only be obtained if a prospective listener emailed him a nude self-portrait, offering a meditation on the vulnerability of artistic exchange. On September 30, Rahbek is releasing that album's direct followup Love Means Taking Action. He's paired this complex mesh of digitally treated pianos, shuddering vocalizations, and dead eyed drones with another a gesture that comments on the reciprocal act of musicmaking. Conceived, in part, as a reaction to the finality of physical releases, Rahbek has decided to unleash all of the instrumental stems into the public domain when the album comes out, allowing anyone to create their own version of the record. While he says he's "proud" of Love Means Taking Action as it stands, he's fascinated with the idea that someone could make something totally different from its component parts.

In advance of his LP's release next week, THUMP caught up with Rahbek over email to talk about how the strange intimacy of the Croatian Amor project fueled his decision to release the stems to the masses. Listen to Love Means Taking Action and check out the conversation below.

THUMP: Love is obviously central to this album and to the Croatian Amor project as a whole. What are you attempting to say about love with this often anxious and unsettled music?
Loke Rahbek: The record is about love yes, but not an amorous one. The record is about a quest to love strangers so that they stop being strangers—an almost practical love, but also the love that is the most needed right now.

Not coincidentally, this does feel like a kinder and gentler side of Croatian Amor.
You are not the first to say that, but I hear it different. I suppose I hear the mesh beneath and not the actual pieces. I like the thought that it's kind, but I don't care for it to be gentle. That was never the idea. It's sometimes hard [for me] to hear the work as it sounds cause of the hours that has gone into thinking about it. I was convinced for a while that I was making a trip-hop album.

I'm really interested in the way this release centers on the interplay between electronic instruments and techniques and acoustic instruments. Were you thinking a lot about the line between human and machine as you were making it?
There is that beautiful scene in Blade Runner, the blush response test—the way they tell the replicants from the humans. That was the idea. Or what is the quote from Ghost in the Shell? "Ghost-hacked humans are so pathetic, it's a shame." You know how when you Skype, you can't have "real" eye contact, but you can take turns looking into the camera and then it feels like you do?

The gestures you've made when releasing this Croatian Amor material suggests that it's even more intimate and personal than the stuff you've made under your own name. Is it more important to invite listeners in than with your other projects?
Maybe you are right. I guess it is different in the way that I never needed Croatian Amor to be about me. I find when I work with my own name the palette of colors is a lot smaller, [the] smallest of any name I have worked under and that can be a good challenge also. Croatian Amor is a lot more flamboyant, has a very wide palette, or a lot of outfits if you will. Maybe that makes the intimacy easier.

I think most music that I am interested in invites people in. It is what you ask them to do there that differs. The Wild Palms and now with the stems of Love Means Taking Action the project asks for very direct action and I believe there is a need for that now.

Can you tell me a bit about the decision to release all the stems of the record when the album is released?
Most of my understanding of music comes from running a record label. We started Posh isolation when I was very young and my first serious musical project was Damien Dubrovnik. The first thing we ever did was to put out a record, Posh Isolation 001. That defined my work method I think, to always see and value the work as releases, whether it was a record, a tape, a zine. Later came performances and happenings but there has always been this need to format it on physical releases. A year or two ago I started feeling unhappy about that process.

There is something absurd about the process, you spent all this time and energy writing, recording, building and designing, then you send it off to a pressing plant and you wait about 3-6 months and then you get it back and it's done. But while it is done and might look nice and maybe even sound okay, it's done and it's dead and it's going to stay in that form till someone sooner or later throws it in the garbage. Before that it will sit in boxes in a mail-order, then sit in the post, maybe sit in a record store, maybe end up in someone's home and all the while it stays the same, it's frozen. There is something nice about the thought but at the same time something sad and even a little perverted.

So it's a reaction, in a way to that physical reality of releasing records.
I am fickle; I change, sometimes rapidly. So there is always the chance [that] the record gets back from the pressing I am already emerged in something else. And it's always nice to get it, but it also always feels slightly late and maybe even a little pointless. The best metaphor I can come up with are those postcards people send when they are out traveling but that end up arriving after they got back and you've seen them plenty after and heard all that was to hear. Then you get the postcard in the mail and while it is nice that it's there it also doesn't really change anything in current affairs. That's brutal but sometimes it's like that.

I did The Wild Palms and that gave me a different experience than any other release I had done. All of a sudden it was alive. Of course the six music pieces were the same on the tapes but the interaction [of receiving photos from people] changed it somehow.

I got interested in [the idea of] "faceless music"—some techno, pirate radio, white labels, dj culture, mixtapes. Some of this was happening in an updated form on Soundcloud and places like that, where music was about partaking in something and not about the person behind [it].

I started off by saying that my initial relationship to music was intimately linked to physical releases and with that I think I mean albums or perhaps better, storylines. Maybe since I don't have any formal musical background the way I worked then and now is primarily with some form of narrative frame. That doesn't necessarily translate very well to a white label release or a track in an anonymous mix. While I say all these bad things about records, I also do like them. I think this way of releasing the album both in a traditional sense as a finished piece, but also granting the option that I and anyone else can change, cut out, appropriate and re-contextualize any part was the most honest and most productive way I could come up with. I am very proud and happy with how this record has turned out and I am very proud and happy with the thought that it can disintegrate into many other pieces and forms.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Colin Joyce is THUMP's Managing Editor. Like you, he's on Twitter.

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