Published Sep 24, 2019Alessandro Cortini's has one request for when you listen to his new record, VOLUME MASSIMO, for the first time: it has to be heard, he says, at "a very loud volume."
"Every time that I was working on it," the former Nine Inch Nails keyboardist tells Exclaim! in an interview, "I always kept reaching for the volume because I wanted more and because it felt so good. The more dynamic parts sound great at a high volume."
Comprised of eight melodic tracks, carefully and meticulously arranged, Cortini's latest release left even the former Nine Inch Nails keyboardist wanting more — so the volume kept going up. This, Cortini explains, is where the name of the album came from: VOLUME MASSIMO, the loudest you can get, the only way you can really get closer to the music and the album; make it so loud that it surrounds you and consumes you and fills every part of your body and the room, and the sound is even more experiential and all-encompassing during a live show.
"People like a record, and they go see the show and they like the record even more. The live show, the environment brings so much to the recording."
For Cortini, the live show is "half the journey.
"People come to leave with an experience," he says. "At the end of some of my shows, people would come to me and say they were very moved by a show, and I don't think they were moved by my specific outfit or whatever — they were moved by the emotional content."
VOLUME MASSIMO is the first record Cortini has played a little bit of guitar on, as well as the first one that wasn't made entirely on a singular piece of equipment that was isolated from his studio.
"I've never been able to take instruments and make them fit together," Cortini says. "I felt like I was lost at sea. It never felt like fun. That's why I've always taken an instrument out of the studio and tried to get creative with it."
On VOLUME MASSIMO, Cortini says he began "thinking of my studio as a whole instrument," and "started to approach overdubs in a more creative way."
As a result, the record offers a thick and rich listening experience, with multiple layers and more organic sounds than any previous work. Featured instruments include the Synthi NKS, the Buchla 200 and 100s (gear Cortini is more than familiar with), a Prophet 5, the Waldorf Quantum and, of course, some classic guitar.
So, why the sudden move to a "real" instrument?
"I've always been a guitar player, and it was always hard to correlate 'Alessandro the guitar player' with 'Alessandro the keyboard player.' It was almost like oil in water in a way, because I was so young when I started playing guitar, and it was hard for me to use it in music like I would use a synthesizer."
But the two parts of Cortini seem happily reconciled on VOLUME MASSIMO, with organic influence seeping in to make a melodic album that can really be listened to at almost any time.
"I think it's a pretty malleable record, as much as the others," Cortini says. "The listener can decide when it needs to be listened to and where."
Like his previous releases, it's harmonious and smooth-sounding; no jagged edges or harsh sounds permeate the record, and it flows naturally from one song to the next. There are no lyrics, either — simply open-ended tracks that encourage the listener to take control of the experience.
"The listener is in charge of writing their own story based on the piece. That's what I like about instrumental music: songs with lyrical content specify a mood and a topic, and you can find yourself in the mood, of course, but there is a tendency of a listener to make it your own."
The world-renowned artist has wide and varied music taste, and a list of potential dream collaborations that include Steve Vai ("I looked up to him when I was a kid as a guitar player, but as I [got] older, I spent more time listening to his philosophy about searching for your own voice and [evolving] your own creative persona"), Aphex Twin, Ben Frost and Caterina Barbieri, a now Berlin-based composer originating from Cortini's hometown of Bologne.
"I think collaborating is essential. If I would just do this all the time, I would get bored.
"Collaboration," Cortini says, "Is a breath of fresh air."
But collaboration can't simply happen, either.
"All [my] collaborations, aside from Merzbow, came from knowing these people and going out for a bit to eat. I think, for all intents and purposes, it ends up being a relationship."
And relationships in general seem to be a big thing for Cortini, from his relationship with other artists and potential and past collaborators to his relationship to his instruments and studio and the music itself — which has to feel like a good time as it's being made.
"I try to keep it as fun and exciting as possible," Cortini says. "I used to connect the product with sacrifice and how much you'd suffer while making it. But to me, that never made me feel like I was one with the music. So now, rule number one is that I have to be having a good time with the music."
VOLUME MASSIMO is out September 27 courtesy of Mute Records.