Per Bloch portrait by Lars-Schwander

Per Bloch:KOKORO remakes

One year after artist/musician Per Bloch hit the scene with an album that defied logic, he’s back at the workbench remaking it into something even stranger.

Published: September 14, 2017Words: Per Bloch & Caitlin MearesPhotography: Lars Schwander / Lukas Renlund / Kenneth Drabæk

Idon’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?

Kokoro album cover by Per Bloch

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 Kokoro book by Per Bloch

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.

The Kokoro book by Per Bloch

This September, you will be releasing a remake of the album. What will that look and sound like?

Can you imagine a Bollywood tune sung in Greek? Or a punchy metal track about the circus of love? And that same song turned into distorted jazz on speed? Followed up by another version of the song but produced as jungle funk. Then an ambient electronica grasp on what was initially a song in French based on harpsichord and recorders.

In fact the journey of these songs has been long. I wrote the songs, then arranged them with classical musicians, into chamber music. Then we recorded them and handed all the files to Troels Abrahamsen (Veto, Exec …) who produced them into what became the Kokoro album. So in a way his versions were already a remix of the initial songs. And now 16 musicians and producers have remixed the Kokoro songs into new versions. That’s why I called them remakes.

In my opinion music should be sans frontières. Uniting people rather than separating them. Kokoro Remakes is a step towards that – and the listener is bound for an exceptional journey through styles, instruments and soundscapes.

You also mentioned that you released a limited edition book that accompanied the Kokoro album, and now the Japanese artist Tomoko Konae will remix that book into a digital artwork for the Kokoro Remakes album. Can you tell more about that?

Kokoro was released digitally and as a limited edition hand made book created with Lil’Ol’Lady. With pictures from my journeys, lyrics and English translations. I can’t help insisting on something physical – digital is easy and accessible, but to me music is tactile, so I prefer presenting a materialised artifact to those who want to flip pages, feel paper quality and take out postcards in different sizes etc. The Kokoro book is for them.

And when we release Kokoro Remakes on the 29th of September, the Japanese visual artist Tomoko Konae will make a remixed version of that book. I’ve handed over all the files and the physical book and she’ll be editing, reworking, twisting, diluting and transforming it into a new digital work of art which will serve as the pdf booklet for Kokoro Remakes. I saw her portfolio and loved her way of mixing analogue with digital, the Japanese elements, her sense of details etc. What better way to top of the music than with a remix of the cover too?

Kokoro Remakes album cover by Per Bloch

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.