Italy-born but Berlin-based Alessandro Cortini is most famous for bringing the singular synth sound to Nine Inch Nails as a keyboard player, but he has also released a prolific number of solo projects under the pseudonym of Sonoio and, more recently, as Alessandro Cortini.
His latest LP, Volume Massimo, published on Mute Records, sees the adventurous musician return to his first love, the guitar, which he has played more of on recent Nine Inch Nails tours and chooses to add a more organic layer to an otherwise analogue, synth-heavy electronic album. Chosen to perform at Mira Son Estrella Galicia Festival in Barcelona on Friday, November 8, he tells us about the powerful visual and emotional side of his latest release, why he thinks a digital arts festival is the perfect place to showcase it, future collaborations and the joys of experimenting with his guitar.
Hi Alessandro, it’s a pleasure to chat to you. Can you start off by telling me where you’re writing from and why you’re there?
I’m in Italy, visiting my parents for a few days.
Congratulations on the release of your album, Volume Massimo, which came out at the end of September. How would you describe it as a follow-up to 2017’s Avanti?
Thank you. It’s simply the album that follows it. I don’t spend too much time thinking about the relationship between my work. It’s just the result of where I am creatively right now, whereas Avanti was the product of where I stood four years ago.
Some people know you as the keyboard-player for Nine Inch Nails, but your are primarily a multi-instrumentalist, having contributed guitar and bass on some of the band’s songs as well. Guitar motifs are abundantly present on this album as opposed to your previous solo projects, can you explain this desire to return to a more organic sound? How does this addition contribute to expanding the soundscape of the album?
Guitar is an instrument that I have learned and played on and off since I was 11 years old. Having played more during the last NIN tours, it eventually found its way into my own music in a very natural way.
Analogue and modular synths appear to be your first loves and you even opened an online synth store two years ago, where you shared gems from your personal collection. Most of your solo work has been synth-based, and you have praised the inexhaustible possibilities offered by the Buchla Music Easel. What is it about this instrument that fascinates you so much and what does it help you convey creatively speaking?
The easel is an instrument like any other. It happened to be the right instrument to fall in love with at that specific time. The same thing happened with me and the EMS Synthi, Roland mc202 and others. Every season has a different romance.
Every track on your album, except for the second one, Let Go, has an Italian name. Is it too far-fetching to ask whether the sound of your mother tongue is an extension of the musical experience you offer?
Once again, I don’t think too much about any of this. When the time comes to give titles to my tracks, I listen to them and the names come out in Italian, and that might indeed be because it’s my mother tongue.
You are set to play Mira Son Estrella Galicia festival in Barcelona on November 8, where you already presented Avanti during a fascinating A/V show in 2016. Why do you think a digital arts festival fits your work? And can you tell us what do you have in store for the audience this year?
It is mostly the organizers’ choice to present my work there, and I tend to trust the curators to know what they’re doing. Volume Massimo has a very strong visual content, so I believe it will work very well in that environment, and I hope it’ll please the audience both sonically and visually.
I’d like to discuss the way you work with audio-visual during your live performances. I watched your incredible Berlin Atonal set from this year and saw your performance at Nuits Sonores 2018, in which you use a lot of archive footage and dark lighting to accompany your music. What type of emotional experience are you trying to curate for your audiences by doing this?
The visual content is designed to augment and complement the sonic content. The idea is to use video to boost sound to another emotional level, and I think the current show demonstrates this in a very powerful way.
The artwork for your album cover seems to be a still from the video for the track Batticuore, which features two people performing a dazing choreography with lampshades on their heads. Any particular reason you chose this piece to illustrate your record?
It’s actually the opposite. The video for Batticuore was a moving recreation of the cover, both curated and created by Emilie Elizabeth (the video was also co-directed by Alessandra Leone).
Synths aside, what would you say inspires you the most in your creative process?
Playing around in the studio, aimlessly, having fun and seeing where it takes me creatively.
You’re a producer, a member of NIN, you’ve toured with How to Destroy Angels, formed your solo project Sonoio and have now released under the name Alessandro Cortini. What’s next on your ever-prolific list of projects?
Spending 2019/2020 touring Volume Massimo around the world, working on my collaboration with Daniel Avery, other collaborative work and a lot of guitar playing on the couch.