Love Means Taking Action
, November 5th, 2016 12:31
Today, love as a word, as a descriptor of a feeling, has been transformed and devalued by metrification and quantification, from an untouchable essence to a commodity status in our attention economy. As a word and image it’s a soothing mystical balm, a ball of vague almost supernatural woo used to sell an idea of purity and authenticity, even though it is now precision tooled via algorithmic preferences to get you where your most valuable – your wallet, or failing that your immaterial labour. Love is the economic chain that shackles you to your ability to act outside the defined parameter and to act better. But there are those who argue that love is not a feeling but an action, an activity that allows us to extend ourselves beyond thinking of love as a pooling, or cathexis, of emotion. Instead love is a commitment, an investment towards the wellbeing of people around us, even strangers, that underpins all social relations, and love is one of the outcomes of this commitment to others.
It’s an idea that surfaced in a recent interview with Croatian Amor, aka Danish musician Loke Rahbek, when he talked about his latest album, Love Means Taking Actions: “The record is about a quest to love strangers, so that they stop being strangers”. Throughout his work as co-founder of Danish experimental music label Posh Isolation, and an increasingly tangled sprawl of solo guises and collaboration projects, Danish musician Loke Rahbek seems fascinated in exploring the differing extremes of intensity and affect in that flow though the body via contact with music, be it the harsh noise and drone of LR, Severe Pornography and Sexdrome, or the Heathcliff-ian melodrama of the goth-pop of Lust for Youth.
But it is with his work at Croatian Amor where we see Rahbek at his most intimate and contemplative. Describing his work as “bubblegum industrial”, Rahbek’s melding of distorted synth soundtracks and increasing polished, flattened textures, has him moving from the visceral to the reflective. Then there is the way that Rahbek seeks with Croatian Amor to obliterate the defined limits and distances in the relationship between the artist and spectator. With Croatian Amor’s last album, 2014’s The Wild Palms, Rahbek announced that to receive a copy, you had to send a nude selfie of yourself to a special e-mail account. With this move, Rahbek wanted to force his listeners to take action in their engagement with the album, from being passive consumers of music (bought or stolen), to becoming part of the piece by making themselves vulnerable in the way the artist makes themselves vulnerable to the audience.
It’s at this point where we now arrive with Love Means Taking Action, the latest album from Rahbek as Croatian Amor. Listening, it seems that Rahbek is contemplating, if not on love per se, then at least the idea of the investment and the pooling of affect and energies that occur in our increasingly digital bodies. Continuing the spirit of bringing the relationship between the artist and listener closer to that of an equal level of collaboration and active communication, Rahbek released the album’s audio stems for free to the public, so they can make their own version of the record. The site shows a revolving virtual digital projection of Rahbek (That looks eerily reminiscent of the Michael Jackson statue from the “History” album tour) intersped with micro shots of images from films such as Ghost in the Shell and The Fifth Element. While the move to share the album’s building blocks is not an entirely ground breaking or new idea, it reinforces Rahbek’s main ethos that Croatian Amor should be about fostering intimacy and the pleasures that derive from our capacities for action.
With Love Means Taking Action we see Rahbek go into full hi-def electronic mode. The tape hiss and crumpled DIY noise aesthetics have been replaced by a digital sheen and synth sounds that have a polished high resolutions lustre, where any dirt or muck in the album is either processed or comes from low quality bitrates. The mode of construction and production has also moved from the simple act of recording and releasing to the realm of the modern electronic music producer, where the main emphasis is one of post-production via the building bock interface of music software that can cut, splice, and rearrange discrete blocks of sound in a myriad of ways.
Unlike the personal break up thematics that were recently heard in Björk’s Vulnicura – where the idea of pain and healing have been given a VR retrofitting – on Love Means Taking Action, the textures of various electronic sounds and samples have a flatness to the point of abstraction, where the unity and discrete nature of such sounds are controlled and varied until they acquire a haunting synthesis. The processed vocal sounds in tracks such as ‘Like Angel’, ‘Octopus Web’ and ‘Like Animal’ have a particularly gaseous quality that drift around crisp and bleak synth drones. Because of such digital abstraction, many of the vocal snippets and takes have no referent to pin onto, making for some rather dissonant moments of discomfort. ‘No Sex Club: Man’, for instance, has a rumbling low end and elegant tones which are overlaid with samples of male and female heavy breathing. Are they breaths of pleasure? Exertion? Fear and anxiety? It is almost impossible to tell – what they represent depends upon what you bring to the record itself.
Although the majority of textures throughout Love Means Taking Action are resolutely virtual, Rahbek is at pains to remind us that even though we are increasingly becoming digital bodies that reside in a social reality that is virtual, saturated by digital media, ahistorical and oblivious to time and space, we still have a finite base of fleshy materiality. The album cover displays a full frontal short of glistening, pulsing flesh that might be human, aquatic, or even alien, but it’s pure fleshiness belies the infinitude of the seamless sounds, replication, and modularity contained in the album. Then there is the starkly human heart of the female vocalist that can be heard on the opening track ‘An Angel Gets His Wings Clipped’ and ‘Like Angel’, where the vocal affect, while the polar opposite of many love song pop vocals out there, is serene to point of being unerring. The pared down, solitary nature of the vocal has an intimacy that far outweighs the empty bombast that is supposed to convey the feeling of love. There are moments, such as ‘Refugee Returns to Safety’ and the closing track ‘Love Means Taking Action’ where he creates pieces of music that cut through the dissonance and are painfully beautiful in their bleakness.
With Love Means Taking Action, Rahbek is definitely working outside of his comfort zone, as he moves into a realm of music production populated by people like Holly Herndon, Katie Gately, Visionist and Rabit, producers whose chopped, glitching, machinic aesthetic provides a commentary on our embodied relationships with the virtual/digital. But while Rahbek may lack the virtuosity of these producers, he has managed to produce an album that´s his most assured to date, where the singular mood is one of a billowing emptiness in a centre that is demanding to be filled with heterogeneous, transitory sounds, and tones that are as fleeting as they are powerful.