There aren’t many musicians who’ve had careers as well-rounded as Italian multi-instrumentalist Alessandro Cortini, who’s spent the last decade with seemingly all of his fingers in different pies. While he’s no doubt best known to many readers for his roles as a live synth and keyboard player in Nine Inch Nails and How To Destroy Angels, he’s also toured live with Muse, been involved as a co-producer on two Ladytron albums, and collaborated on a track with Christina Aguilera. At the same time he’s also found time to release a hefty backcatalogue of his own music, ranging from his alternative electronic-oriented band Modwheelmood alongside Pelle Hillstrom, through to his electronic pop solo project SONOIO, and the more drone / noise-oriented Blindoldfreak.
If there’s one thing that’s remained consistently present across all of his work however, it’s been an ongoing fascination with modular and analogue synthesis, particular the Buchla and EMS Synthi AKS. Indeed, from around 2012 onwards he’s chosen to eschew his various aliases and instead release music under his own name, and at the same time his music has taken on a considerably more vast and drone-based atmosphere. Indeed, his 2013 debut album under his own name ‘Forse 1’ comes across as similar to passing through the outer layers of some giant gas planet, the vast droning bass tones seeming to push the mastering capabilities of vinyl to their very limits at points.
He’s remained extremely prolific in recent years, releasing the dark ambient and IDM tinged ‘Sonno’ and ‘Risveglio’ albums, and also an impressive collaborative album earlier this year alongside Japanese noise auteur Merzbow, a meeting of minds that was just begging to happen. After Alessandro Cortini’s last minute cancellation at last year’s Unsound Adelaide Festival, he’s finally doing a solo Australian tour behind his upcoming new ‘AVANTI’ album, with appearances at Hobart’s Dark Mofo festival and various other venues around the country. Chris Downton caught up with Alessandro via email to find out more about the new album, and just how he manages to juggle all of his creative projects.
CD: What attracts you particularly towards working with modular synths? What was your first experience using one?
AC: I like the open structure and ability to start from scratch every time. I wouldn’t say I am really into modular synths, to be honest. I am into instruments, first. Some of the instruments I love the most happen to be modular, such as vintage Buchla and EMS. I don’t like all modulars…as a matter of fact I am overwhelmed by the whole Eurorack scene as it’s so fragmented and inconclusive when it comes to its ability to provide the user with a clear path to define their own personal voice.
My first modular synth was a used Analogue System RS15+RS10 rack, purchased in 2002. I made so much music with it…I’m actually thinking of releasing it all, since some of the stuff sounds now appropriate.
CD: You’ve mentioned that your upcoming Australian live performances will be based around your upcoming ‘AVANTI’ album – can you elaborate on what the new album is like? When is the new album expected to come out?
AC: The album should be out on Point of Departure/PIAS by the end of August. ‘AVANTI’ is based on the sonorization of old Super 8 videos of my family that I was able to rescue. I decided to write music to them, and to present them live.
CD: You’ve also mentioned that you’ve been performing the new album live for a lot of the last year, how has the touring gone so far? Can you give any hints as to what to expect at the Australian shows?
AC: The shows have been going very well. I have been having a great time and it seems everyone has been emotionally touched by the show, which is what it did to me when I prepared it. It always makes me feel fulfilled when someone says they cried during the presentation…I’m not evil by all means, but I think ‘AVANTI’ has the potential to trigger a very deep and personal emotional response in the listener/spectator, usually in a therapeutic and healing way.
CD: You’re performing at Dark Mofo as part of Borderlands along with Lawrence English, Klara Lewis and Grouper – have you heard much about the festival?
AC: I have, and not only I am very honored of being part of it, but I couldn’t think of a more ideal lineup. Most of my favorite artists of the last decade are on it, and it feels like a dream to see the overwhelming amount of female performers, in a scene usually dominated by male artists… I hope this is an example that will be followed all around the world, and it should be, given the caliber of art we are going to be witnessing at the festival.
CD: As someone who works with a lot of bulky synthesizers, does flying this (I can imagine often fragile) equipment from country to country present its own set of challenges?
AC: Ha yes I guess that is a good point. I hardly ever travel with the vintage machines I create the music with…that would be a very frustrating and not enjoyable way of traveling and presenting the music. I tend to approach the live show differently every time, trying to utilize a different setup that is ideal for the specific project.
For example, ‘AVANTI’ was written and recorded with an EMS Synthi AKS, but live I perform it with a TASCAM 4 track cassette player. It allows me to add another layer of expression to it, much different from the original creative one, while providing a certain degree of stability that the vintage machine wouldn’t be able to provide….with plenty of room for random and happy mistakes if needed.
CD: What sorts of influences (musical or otherwise) have an effect on your work? Are your albums based around specific concepts or themes?
AC: I try not to think too much about what the albums are going to be. It never is an album to begin with…I just make music every day and sometimes, after a while, a group of ideas clump together into something that makes sense. Sometimes it all takes place in two hours, others it might take two years….sometimes it’s all one instrument and one live take, others it’s an endless orchestra.
I like to wait and see what tickles my creativity and excitement, as opposed to sitting down and “working on the next record”. That frustrates me…I guess I am also lucky to be making music every day. It’s like playing with toys really. I’m like a big baby, with no intention to grow up any time soon.
CD: You recently released your self titled collaborative album alongside Merzbow, had you and Masami known each other prior to this? Were there any particular things that you learned from this experience?
AC: We met for the first time during our first performance in Tokyo this year. The idea (to collaborate) came from knowing that he had used the EMS Synthi extensively in his work before. John at Important Records made the connection and we took it from there….it was a great project to be involved in. I’d say I learned to ask for things that I’d like to do and see what happens. You never know, and the worst case scenario is that you get a “no” back.
CD: You’ve worked with both Merzbow and Christina Aguilera, whilst also balancing live duties with bands like Muse and Nine Inch Nails – is it ever difficult to juggle such a busy workload? I can imagine that creatively it must be quite liberating in many ways?
AC: It looks like a lot of stuff on paper, but it isn’t when you spread it over the course of 10 years.
CD: I was a big fan of the Sonoio records, and also Blindoldfreak – are these still active entities, or are you more focused on releasing music under your own name these days?
AC: There will be a SONOIO record coming out by the end of the year since it’s been finished for quite some time, though I am not going to do anything about it nor play shows or promote it. I have no interest in it anymore, as I find the new (creative) direction much more inspiring and therapeutic.
I hate to have stuff die on my hard drive so I’ll put it out. Blindoldfreak was nothing more or less than what I am doing now, so you could say it’s still going on.just a different name.
Alessandro Cortini’s Australian tour:
Saturday 17th of June – Tasmania – Dark Mofo. More info here.
Wed 21st of June – Melbourne – Mess – 2 hour session. More info here.
Thursday 22nd of June – Melbourne with Xiu Xiu playing the music of Twin Peaks – Substation. More info here.
30th of June – Sydney – Room40’s Open Frame event at Carriageworks alongside Sarah Davachi and Klara Lewis. For more information, go to: http://carriageworks.com.au/events/open-frame-room-40/