Workspace and Environment: Alessandro Cortini

It’s been a while…

I was born in Bologna, Emilia Romagna, Italy and moved to the US of A in 1999 to study guitar. All of a sudden it’s 10 years later and I don’t understand what the fuck happened. My dad played an old acoustic from time to time and taught me some chords but it wasn’t until I was 11 that I started taking guitar lessons. Guitar was my main instrument until I started working with a local musician in my hometown, Franco Naddei that I started getting into synthesizers. I still play guitar but electronic instruments became more attractive to me, especially modular ones because of their possibilities and hands on interface.
I have two main outlets: modwheelmood has been my more band related project for a while. I started it before I joined Nine Inch Nails and continue to write, record and release songs. We just recently released an album, Pearls To Pigs, in both digital and physical (Vinyl, CD) format. We have played some shows on the West Coast and East Coast and plan on touring more extensively in the future.
Blindoldfreak is simply whatever comes out of me and my machines, without thinking too much about it.
I believe there is always some sort of statement or musical value in the compositions, but i would say it’s less linked to a song structure, and more related to moods and simple emotions.
I am really attracted to drones and evolving sound textures, and find myself listening to a lot of that kind of music in my spare time, so it’s normal that some of this finds an outlet in my own creative process.

What keeps you motivated?
The need to solve problems.

Favorite Hardware?
Buchla Music Boxes. I haven’t been using anything else for composition in a while. Out of all the modular world I find them being more attractive to me for some reason: either the way they sound, the way they look or the way they are operated…it’s difficult to pinpoint it and kind of useless I believe. To each his own! I have owned several different modulars in my life and still own some other pieces but none of them get as much use as the Buchla.

Software of Choice?
I use the Monome with MLR a lot, especially with Modwheelmood, live. I can’t program in Max MSP to save my life, but MLR is simple enough to allow me to approach the monome as an instrument and forget about the computer side of things.

How does your physical space and surroundings influence your workflow?
The longer you have been music, the harder it is to keep it interesting for yourself…. An ergonomic setup where everything is within reach is key, while it’s also important to have different corners that allow you to switch from one instrument to another (i.e. from “computer mode” to “modular mode” to “drum machine mode” etc..()

What would your ideal workspace look like?
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, with a lot of cats.

What was the first piece of gear you remember obtaining?
Crumar BitOne!

The last?
Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor

What Is On Your Current Wishlist?
A Buchla time based effect (delay or similar)

Do you have a mobile studio setup?
I try to use new tools to compose while on the road now. In the past, I have tried to bring whole recording rigs with me, guitars, synths, etc. Now, spending more time in the studio, I get the chance to try new things when I am traveling – like with the monome, or Reaktor … I always get something interesting out of them. Recently I have been spending more and more time with Jasuto on the iPhone/Ipod Touch. Truly awesome application for coming up with new ideas. Really inspiring.

Do you have a setup for live performances?
For modwheelmood it’s been really interesting: most of the songs were composed with the aid of modular and analog synthesizers, and when it came time to adapt them for live, I didn’t want to use a computer for playback or sound generation. Whether because I did it for so long with NIN or simply out of laziness, I felt like it would have been great to try and recreate some of the songs in a different way, as a trio, with no computer aid. So a lot of the textures, pads, effects are now coming from my bass rig and Pelle’s guitar rig, while Jepser is triggering samples from his drumkit, live.
So far we think it’s been working really well. I personally have been using a combination of Empress Super delay, EH Micro Pog and Malekko ASSMaster on the bass, in order to create stacks of octaves that allow me to fill up the space missing from the recordings. I feed that signal to a dedicated guitar amp, as opposed to my bass amp, in order to make the mixing job easier.
I also use an EH voicebox, fed by pelle’s guitar on some songs to recreate the vocoded parts. Vocals run through a Line 6 delay pedal, which allows me to tap the specific tempo for each song.
For the songs that were all written on a modular (i.e. Problem Me, Madrid Changes), I switch to a Monome where I control both the click that goes to the drummer and the different parts of the song, while Pelle adds the guitar parts live. It’s a more fun, active way to use and integrate a computer in a live environment, I believe, but it’s still just two songs out of a set.

For blindoldfreak, I usually just bring my 12 panel Buchla 200e cabinet and either 2 x Line 6 delays (for quad speaker setups) or an Eventide H8000FW. The 200e allows me to have a specific setlist saved as presets, leaving me with a basic patch for each composition, where I can change knob settings on the fly and play with the delays in order to build my drones. There is no other instrument that gives you this amount of flexibility in the modular world at the moment, period. On top of it, each show is different form the other, as I tend to build a specific set for a specific concert/tour. It makes it really interesting and satisfying from a compositional point of view too.

How many physical locations have you had your studio?
Several locations…maybe 6 or 7? It was easier in the beginning when I was doing everything with the laptop. It’s funny, because i feel I am going backwards: I remember being stoked by the fact that I could record a whole album with my laptop but now I find myself coming up with more ideas in front of a single synth module rather than using all the programs I have available on my mac… I think I am deeply crippled by not being able of taking advantages of tools as much as others.
I crave limitations:I hope for problems and walls to pop up during my creative process. That’s what keeps me going and gives me a reason to come u
p with something.

Are You Involved With Sound Design Or Composition?
I have done some work with local composers who were looking for a different approach in sound design but I have yet to find somebody who wants me to do a score. I am definitely interested in trying, if the right opportunity arises.

Can you discuss generally 3 benefits and 3 drawbacks of the Buchla system?
Unique interface.
Feature dense modules.

While portable, still not carry on size.
Initial monetary investment.

Which module do you find being used the most?
Voltage control processors are the least used modules in my systems, if I have any (Buchla 255, 257, Plan B M14).
Somehow I get stuff done without having to consult them, most of the time. I am determined to learn to implement them more in my patches in the future!

What About Delays?
All delays fit everywhere, to be honest. I haven’t spent too much time A/Bing different kinds of delays and instruments together. However I do have some favorites: The Empress Super Delay is getting used a lot, both live and in the studio, the Diamond Memory lane is one of the best sounding analog delays I have tried.
Plug in wise, SoundToys Echoboy is the one which gets most use around here, followed by Logic’s stereo and Tape delay: simple but effective.