Artist Info: Per Bloch
Photography: Lukas Renlund / Kenneth Drabæk
I don’t believe we are living in a world where being a specialist is a term of praise anymore. In an era where knowledge sharing and the diversity of consumable subject matter is merely at the tips of your fingers, I feel focusing all of your mental acuity on one area seems more a testament to narrow-mindedness rather than passion for a subject – something I feel is a system of beliefs that I share with artist/musician Per Bloch.
With the world now existing as a digital playground, the methodologies and mantras of the past have been shattered and people are working and living cross-disciplinary lives. The new normal is to wear many hats, take in as many interests as you can, and invent your own red thread that ties them all together, and this is exactly what Bloch does in artistic practices.
What drew my attention to Bloch, was a challenging music project he was cooking and finally popped out of the oven in September of ‘16. For his third solo album Kokoro, rather than being a man of many hats, he took them, deconstructed them, and began weaving his own Technicolor Dreamcoat where each of the different colors and fabric represents a different culture and musical genre.
To simplify this metaphor – which I clearly murdered heinously – Bloch pulled from a multitude of languages, musical genres, and extramusical inspiration to create an album that defies categorization while being simple and elegant. In other words, it is anything but the sonic equivalent of steaming horse shit that one might expect from an album combining multiple musical genres fronted by a Dane singing in eight different languages.
The album was also accompanied by a small print run book that told the stories of the album in a visual format.
It was quite a risk to attempt blending such diversity into one album while maintaining the respect for the cultures and languages Bloch was appropriating into his music, but he succeeded gracefully.
Now, one year later, and Bloch is revisiting that project. Remixing it in an even more gratuitous way, and releasing it with a reimagined version of the printed book by Japanese artist Tomoko Konae. To get some more thoughts on this reunion, I spoke with Bloch on this endeavor and his process in general.
Kokoro has been a rather ambitious musical project from the start, what gave you the inspiration for it?
Most of my ideas and projects grow out of impossibilities or discrepancies. How come no one has sung in eight languages on one album before? What happens if I write songs in languages I don’t know? Let’s make an Arabic song with a French classical trio – and why not record it in an art cinema?
most recent goodness…
I seek extraordinary challenges. Our lives are filled with repetition and the mundane so I try to use the art sphere and my music to pull away from the scaffolding of habits and enter through the cracks to unknown places.
My inspiration for doing so – for trying to expand and challenge – comes from various places, and not only music: Guy Bourdin’s photographs, Mike Patton’s vocals, the scope of surrealism, the universes of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Indian Odissi dance, the three Japanese alphabets (the title of the album Kokoro is the Japanese word for ‘heart’ and ’emotion’) and also the album House of the Double Axe by Dicte consisting of jazz songs in latin, and the works by Martin Hall which taught me that with the right touch it’s possible to fuse seemingly incompatible elements.
His album Das Mechanische Klavier with its mix of opera, electronics, classical music, spoken word and songs in German and English was, for me, a groundbreaking epiphany.
But I think it all started when I heard Björk’s Icelandic songs on Medúlla. Especially the lullaby Vökuró that I later found out is an Icelandic folk song. I didn’t understand the words, but I could easily feel them. Two things came to my mind when I heard those songs: I want to use music as a communicative force that transcends language … and that language is amazing – I want to sing in Icelandic too!
Were you working in band or musical project prior to Kokoro?
Kokoro is my third album and as a solo artist, I haven’t had a band – at least not a traditional one with fixed members. I tend to switch musicians between albums because they differ so much in style and genre that the constellation of the live ensemble ignites new instruments. And also because we only perform unique concerts tailor made to the venue and situation. No regular touring. So I always bring special guests on stage: the Icelandic soprano Regína Unnur Ólafsdóttir, Indian classical singer Nabanita Ghosh, Turkish-Danish singer Luna Ersahin, Danish actress Kirsten Norholt, various poets, visual artists etc.
My previous album, Mezzosphere, was released as Peerish and was made in collaboration with Noah Rosanes – a Danish multi-genre musician and producer. But I wouldn’t call us a band. Noah didn’t participate on Kokoro, but he has made a remake for the upcoming Kokoro Remakes album and he’s produced my new single 12, that will be the bonus track on Kokoro Remakes. And he’s still with me on stage as the guitarist.
In fact, I feel like the time has come for a band – a cross national ensemble fusing various genres. A symbiosis of ambitions where I’d be sharing the driving force energies with like minded and open minded people. That was an invitation. Anyone?
The album you released last year under this project, has you singing songs in eight different languages, are you that multilingual?
No, unfortunately not, but I’m that curious. I like stretching my comfort zone so with help from translators and native speakers I was able to reach a decent level in the four languages out of the eight that I was a novice in: Greek, Icelandic, Spanish and Arabic. I chose to skip tools when things got too familiar – it’s like the functionality of the bells on the fools hat: they keep him alert and present. So when I feel confident in English songwriting it’s time to shift tongue.
I very quickly found out that by changing the language my songwriting also changed. Each song had its own process. For example the Icelandic: I wrote the lyrics in English and had help with the translation to Icelandic and then recorded a native speaker reading them slowly.
I listened to that recording until I had memorized it and then started composing the music and writing a melody.
I then met with my Icelandic helper again to adjust pronunciation and phrasing. Little by little it grew into an Icelandic song written and sung by a Dane – not perfect and of course with an accent, but that’s not the point, perfection is not my interest. Orchestrated with accordion and erhu (Chinese violin) it became a modern folk song blended with the electronics. A new Nordic fusing classical, rhythmical and electronic sounds.
You worked with Syrian refugees and collaborators from more than 15 countries in the making of that album. How difficult was it to orchestrate and plan that with so many different people involved?
Well, let’s just say it wasn’t easy. At times I felt more like a project coordinator than a musician. But that is the reality of being a modern artist: you have to be an all rounder. And luckily I enjoy the functions of structuring, facilitating and orchestrating too. A positive outcome of going through these aspects is that it stimulated the conceptualisation of the album: I merged with the ideology underlying the music.
When I start a project I try not having too fixed an idea about what the result will be. Picasso said: “If you know exactly what you’re going to do, what’s the good in doing it?” I choose not to be completely in control, so by co-creating with a lot of people and nationalities I hold on to the unpredictable and unknown.
During the production I often got asked “With a unique ensemble for almost each song how will you play this live?” But to me that’s obvious: the songs on the album sound like they did on that specific day we recorded them. Live has to be something else, so therefore I rearrange the songs with the current musicians for each show. Yes, that means a lot of planning and a vast amount of emails but I believe in integration and connections, so in every level this is the right way: The Kokoronian way.
What do you see in the future for this project?
In many ways I feel like I have found my voice with this work, and it’s a voice that celebrates heart, sincerity and collaboration: the only ways for survival on this planet. I will always bring elements of Kokoro to future projects but without direct repetition, since curiosity and breaking boundaries are obligations not choices.
Any parting words?
Yes. Always. Two music videos will be out with the release of Kokoro Remakes. Finnish art photographer Lukas Renlund has transformed my random ‘out of the taxi window in India’ filming into something still simple but warm and evocative. At the same time, for Anna Lidell’s remake called Δύο χέρια (“Dio Heria”) – which means ‘two hands’ in Greek – the American visual artist Megan Perra has made beautiful video based on drone footage of sweeping vistas from the Canadian Atlantic coast across the continent to the Pacific Ocean and beyond.
more stuff like this…
Francesca Fini and her carnal fusion of physical and virtual by Fransesca Fini & J.Scott Stratton OMWI: FThe songwriting is very co-writing-ish, and we both overlap every role we can think of. Bashir is the singer and primary lyricist. Jakob works more with the...
OMWI & the shape of soul to comeby OMWI & J.Scott StrattonOMWI: FThe songwriting is very co-writing-ish, and we both overlap every role we can think of. Bashir is the singer and primary lyricist. Jakob works more with the tones and plays the instruments. We both...
Riccardo Matlakas on Melting Borders between art and societyby Riccardo Matlakas & J.Scott StrattonRICCARCO MATLAKAS: I’ve always felt like exploding inside every time I did something only for money. I felt time was stolen off my life. I feel there is so much...
Gripface: From the outside in, and inside out.by Gripface & J.Scott StrattonGRIPFACE: For me the two things [street art and gallery art] go hand in hand, that is to say, I need to work in both circuits because one thing complements the other, in the exhibition...
MART-X and his work 'Binary Memory From Anthropocene.'by MART-X & J.Scott StrattonMART-X: What interests me most is what a spectator feels and thinks of what I show him and what he can bring back. In this idea of interaction with the spectator, I would like to...