Name: Alessandro Cortini
Occupation: Producer, multi-instrumentalist
Current release: Alessandro Cortini's Scuro Chiaro is out via Mute.
This interview was conducted in 2019, on the occasion of the release of Volume Massimo. That album marked an important shift for Alessandro Cortini. Up until this point, the Italian modular synth master had mainly been known for his work with other bands, mainly Ladytron and Nine Inch Nails, for whom Cortini had turned into a versatile live performer and occasional studio work contributor. His solo work, meanwhile, was mainly distributed via exquisite, yet smaller labels like Important and Hospital Productions, and saw him collaborating with mainstays of the experimental scene, from Lawrence English to Merzbow. Volume Massimo changed that. Published on the legendary Mute imprint, home to Depeche Mode, Nick Cave, Goldfrapp and New Order, it put his solo work in the spotlight more confidently than ever.
[Read our Lawrence English interview]
[Read our Merzbow interview]
Volume Massimo presented a subtle, yet seminal shift in his work. Modular synthesis was still at the heart of all these pieces. So was experimentation, the constant need to question, explore and re-invent himself. Never before, however, had all his different interests and inspirations been so seamlessly integrated into a personal style. Sometimes close to early Kraftwerk in terms of their aesthetics add relying heavily on repetition, deliberate dynamic tension arcs and the juxtaposition of analog warmth and crunching noise, these pieces were akin to Aphex Twin's Ambient pieces: Immersive and mesmerising, yet alien and bewildering all at once.
Cortini's soundtrack to the videogame Ghost Reckon Breakpoint (which went from mediaeval moods to intense rock) and a beguiling collaboration with Daniel Avery (Illusion of Time, which offered hints at cosmic sequencers and otherworldly drones) seemed to indicate another change of direction.
[Read our Daniel Avery interview]
Scuro Chiaro, however, sounds almost exactly like Volume Massimo, staying in the same space and deepening and expanding it. That's by no means a coincidence. As Alessandro points out in this interview, albums seem to organise themselves, simply by him recording and collecting material every day. Neither is it an issue whatsoever. The emotional resonance of these tracks is remarkable, the level of detail of these sounds, which can sometimes feel as rich as those of a violin or piano, is astounding. It seems as though, after years of searching, Alessandro Cortini has found his spot – why go anywhere, if things are this beautiful?
If you enjoyed this interview with Alessandro Cortini and would like to stay up to date on his music, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.
Alessandro Cortini: "I think I'd get bored of doing one thing only. I enjoy changing the pace and working on different things after a while, whether that is a collaboration, a different record or a score. It keeps it interesting and always creative.
I don’t think that working in a band context – like with Nine Inch Nails – has directly impacted my creative output. I think working with NIN allowed me to discover myself musically and to try to understand what I wanted to do with my music.
I make music and record every day if I can, without a specific goal, and through time I collect pieces that make sense together into playlists. Some of them might become a record, a score, a collaboration. Some of them are simply created to lead to something else.
I have no expectations from them … I just get them out. Some of them tend to attach themselves to others. As they take shape, I tend to refine them until it’s time to mix them, which is when they all finally feel like they belong together as a whole.
In terms of the recording process for the pieces on Volume Massimo, there weren’t many challenges. I didn’t sit down thinking “ I am making a record”. The whole point is to create continuously … eventually things tend to gravitate toward each other, like magnets, and they form a cluster of ideas that make sense together.
Every time that I was playing back the original playlist on my iPhone I would max out the volume because I would get excited. It’s best played loud in my opinion, and that’s what the title Volume Massimo means.
There have been a few technical challenges of course, but those are for the most part just as useful to the creative process as the pure ideas themselves.
I don’t really deal with loops per se, but mostly chord progressions that are repeated. The idea is to find a progression that has the ability to assume a different meaning as you repeat it, and change its tonal features as you progress.
[Asked about William Baskinski and their shared interest in loops]
While I feel honored to be mentioned in the same sentence as William, and while I feel the goal is the same, our work differs in the sense that I like creating sounds from scratch, as opposed to using the tape loop itself as the instrument, in Billy’s case.
I can’t think of a more influential figure than Billy when it comes to unifying repetition and emotion. His work is heartbreaking and elevating at the same time.
I grew up listening to songs so a certain amount of structure will always be present in my work, though I have learnt to have that structure be dictated by emotion as opposed to rules. It tends to be very elastic in my work, I like to think.
[Read our William Basinski interview]
I tend to latch to one instrument’s output and see how much I can get out of it …
The piece "Dormi", for example, was created by switching the AKS off very quickly then turning it on again, therefore semi erasing whichever sequence was on it already. From there, I just shaped the patch and made it more melodic … tuned, so to speak.
There are no samples on it. I have nothing against samples, but I don’t use many, aside from found recordings or old family voice recordings.
My intention is usually to come up with a sound that I can listen to and feel like it’s new to me, or that triggers specific emotions. The process is always different in terms of the instrumentation.
I tend to be the happiest and feel content when I create music. I have yet to find something else that makes me feel whole the same way.
Art’s purpose to me is to make me feel like I do what makes me happy. Everything else has so far fallen into place one way or another."