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Alessandro
Cortini: Risveglio (Hospital Productions)

Alessandro
Cortini might be best known in the context of his collaborations with
Trent Reznor over the last several years, serving time in Nine Inch
Nails’ performing lineup and appearing on a few albums. He’s also quietly been releasing his
solo music for a few years now, on Important and Hospital, and in
hearing these I realize just how integral he must be in those scoring
projects. There is an understated tension in most of Risveglio that
comes through in a similar way to his work with Reznor, but the
production is more crude, more synthesized, less clear, less elegant.
Those aren’t criticisms in the slightest; it all comes together
fantastically well. The arpeggio warbles of a track like “La
Sveglia” has all of the woozy otherness of modular synth artists
like Nathan Fake or James Holden, but without any of the dance music
framework or foundation. Instead these cuts stand alone as
instrumental and often beatless journeys. It’s also not hard to hear
what Reznor heard in Cortini’s talents, as his often midrange and
microtonal bending productions feel very much in line with some of
Reznor’s own box of tricks, letting the tension hang in the details.
But the similarities end there; Cortini’s modular creations are stark
and minimal, but he gets a lot of mileage out of them. There are
rarely more than two layers of sound in any given track, but his
talent for slowly shifting effects lends these pieces momentum rather
than merely feeling repetitious. Consider the simple patterns of
“Lotta,” for instance, the longest cut centered in the album’s
playlist: this is not what one would typically associate with
synthesis, because its prolonged tones are melodic and accessible,
but it’s against the odds as Cortini amps up the distortion, mids,
and reverb on his small palette of sound. This gives it both a larger
than life quality but also feels claustrophobic as the effects close
in and nearly swallow the sounds they are enhancing.

It’s worth
noting that on my copy of the digital release (from Emusic in this
case) short track “Dormiveglia” cuts out completely about 30
seconds in, as if Cortini lost power while recording. Since this
exists in both SoundCloud and other versions of the track, I can only
assume that this is intentional and is there to emphasize the
improvisational nature of Cortini’s music, but its inclusion is still
curious and feels like a mistake rather than a statement. At its most
stark, Risveglio can be truly haunting, such as on “La Via,” a
creeper built entirely around an undulating pattern and melodic
accents… it’s cases like this when Cortini’s effects really carry
the track to a new place, with a broad decay on his synced delay
accruing both distorted noise as well as that sort of implied doppler
effect of layering. “LA Guardia” is one of my favorites, built
around a 303 acid pattern that starts off unassumingly and then
reveals itself as he dials up the filter. It’s a simple enough trick
but it’s so effective that I can’t help but love it. His scaled down
productions with so few layers, relying heavily on looping patterns
and arps, inevitably brings to mind some of the haunting and inspired
scores of John Carpenter in the late 70s and early 80s (especially
Halloween III — an often overlooked gem, I always say), but the
murkier mids and rougher edges take it to a darker and more obscured
place, bringing to mind once again that claustrophobia that I
mentioned earlier. The overall finish of Risveglio makes it feel
right at home on Vatican Shadows’ Hospital Productions imprint,
feeling like a more organic and aged tape transfer, and the contrast
between a slow, muddy burner like “Posso” and the disorienting
warble of “La Sveglia” makes what could be a predictable set of
tracks — if only by virtue of Cortini’s fairly focused and
consistent process here — rich and varied. Recommended listening
for fans of M. Geddes Gengras’ ambient excursions or Boards of
Canada’s most esoteric and darkest pieces, as well as anyone with a
curious ear for stripped down electronic atmosphere with a pulse.

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