Concrete: A Q&A with Soft Armour

Incandescent tones, drone against the fabric of a sonic environment, scratching and clawing its way through a soupy miasma of synthesised textures. Moments of intense sonic excursions into alien territories open up onto a world of stark minimalist, cold landscapes that are redolent of the empty spaces they symbolise in their titles. The work is encased in Soft Armour’s Multi Terrain, an album that manifests the concrete in the abstract in evocative sonic landscapes that ebb and flow on the crest of a deep artistic presence.

That artistic presence is Christian Hougaard, a Danish musician and producer who came into prominence around the Infinite Waves label from Copenhagen. Following on from the “Standard Operating Procedures” on cassette, Multi Terrain solidifies a sound; a sound that plays melancholic atmospheres with references to Ambient, Drone, Techno and IDM dotted throughout. It’s a progressive ideology that refrains from a formulaic doctrine of a genre to find music that exists between borders, but allowing access from various entry points.

From subtle airy melodic themes bouncing in the ether of modulating pads, to four to the floor beat structures that approach the dance floor from an obscure angle, the album exists in isolation around contrasting and symbiotic features of electronic music’s vastly extensive language. Hougaard combines these in very carefully calculated ways, giving each part its own distinctive space to roam freely without clashing with others. Unpicking the elements that make up the tracks, it’s easy to catalogue singular moments, but as a whole they come together as something incredibly unique, existing at a level all on to its own and finding a very definite and singular artistic presence in them.

But how much the concrete ideas of spaces and terrains informs Multi Terrain and just how Hougaard fell into this artistic voice, is still a complete mystery and what the album has done is only pique our interests further. Through Infinite Waves and Bjarke Rasmussen we get in touch with Christian via email and put some questions to the artist in an attempt to decode some of the work behind Soft Armour and Multi Terrain. With this Q&A we also have a mix of influences recorded by the artist.]

 

Hello Christian. It’s good to finally talk to you. We’ve not been introduced formally, but your name has cropped up a few times around the Formant. Can you give us a proper introduction?

I’ve been making music since 1996, when I started playing metal with a few childhood friends. I started listening to electronic music around 2000, but didn’t start producing it myself until 2009. It’s probably a cliché, but it was actually during my studies in Berlin, when I got very inspired by the whole synth wave/hypnagogic wave and of course German techno. At the time, I released under the name Space Program and my own name CR Hougaard. Space Program has later transformed into the name Forvarsel. I also wanted to release music more focused on beats, but it took me a while to learn beat programming. In 2014, I released the first Soft Armour tape.

What is your earliest memory of taking a liking to music?

I got really into Swedish, Norwegian and American metal scene when I was around thirteen. My addiction to collecting records also started back then.

Which musical instrument is centre to your artistic voice?

My Elektron Analog Rytm. It is present in all my tracks. There’s also some plugins from Madrona Labs I use on almost every track and I see as an important part of my sound.

We’re talking because you are about to release Multi Terrain on Infinite Waves. Can you tell us a little about the concepts or ideas that filtered into the album before the first sounds even existed?

I have never really had any concepts before I start recording. Usually I just jam and record without knowing for which project. When I start to have a collection of tracks which fit together I start to think about the concept.

 

The titles of the tracks are all various terrains (as the album suggests). What is their significance in relationship to the music?

As mentioned, it’s not a completely conscious process, but there are various memories that played into making the music and naming the tracks. Some are connected to my experience in the military – which is a big influence on the whole Soft Armour project, obviously. For example, the track “Tarmac” reminds me about running at a Danish army base in the desert early in the mornings listening to “Selected Ambient Works 2”.

How does this album evolve your work?

I did a lot more post-production this time, I multi-tracked the music and really got into the mixing process. Usually I set everything up and record it to a stereo track.

How do you approach your instruments to relay something concrete like a Tarmac into the abstract?

I research production methods and explore different scales when making music. A lot of different factors go into it, but in the end, the main thing is experimentation. I start working on a track and dig deeper in directions that seem interesting to me.

For me there is a subtle melancholy to the album, but this is obviously subjective. Is there a feeling that you particularly wanted to relay to the listener?

I like melancholic music, so I guess that’s an obvious direction for me to go. I didn’t really have a plan for the tone of this album beforehand though.

After speaking to Misantrop and hearing your releases on Infinite Waves, it seems that you are part of a scene there in Copenhagen. Can you give us a glimpse of what it’s like there for an artist like yourself at the moment?

I actually live in Aarhus, which is like four hours from Copenhagen, so I’m not a natural part of the scene. I know a lot of good people there who make interesting things at the moment. The same happens in Aarhus as well.

There’s an obvious connection between your music and Infinite Waves, not perhaps in sound, but at least in feeling. Is there something between all the artists that preside there that ties it all together for you?

Very difficult question, Infinite Waves has a very diverse output, in my opinion. I guess Bjarke can answer this question better.

Note from Bjarke: For me, Infinite Waves has always been very personal. So I guess it’s my taste in music that ties it together. Last year I spent a lot of time thinking about the future for the label, and I’ve decided to only release local acts and good friends. I’ve been a fan of Christians music for many years now, so it feels great putting out his first solo LP.

How does that environment affect your own music in your opinion, especially considering Multi Terrain?

Bjarke from Infinite Waves gives me total freedom so it doesn’t affect the music, and I haven’t tried to fit it to a certain sound.

There’s a mix of influences that we’re posting with this Q&A. How did these influences affect the creation of the album?

As I said earlier, I was very much into death and black metal in the nineties, and (unfortunately) not so much into electronic music at the time. Later I found out there was so much great stuff released. So I’ve been catching up on a lot of IDM, ambient and techno from back then. That inspired me a lot when making this album.

Was it about a sound or a feeling to them, and how would you put that into words?

Both the sound and the futuristic feel. There’s a lot of nostalgia in music production right now, but nineties electronic music was forward looking and I like that approach.

Why did you want to put them across in this mix and what do you hope the listener would get out of the album after listening to the mix?

I wanted to show my inspiration from both German and British music from the 90’s. There’s so much good stuff so it was difficult to pick. I also wanted included more recent inspirations and added Demdike Stare and FP Oner (Fred Peterkin) to the mix.

Are these influences significant to your development, or just a space in time for you?

Clear inspiration.

And to round things off, where do you suspect they will lead to next for Soft Armour?

I’m continuously working on new things. One project has a very minimalistic approach to production, I think it will be ready to launch later this year. At the same time as this release, I also have a 12” coming out on Partners Records, a collaboration with Natal Zaks’ Central. It has a very different sound, it’s more dance floor friendly.