Interview with Alessandro Cortini

By Tony Randazzo for The NIN Hotline on June 16, 2009

Photos by Brigid Towler

It's been quite a year for Alessandro Cortini and we're only halfway through 2009. After wrapping up the Lights In The Sky tour at the end of 2008, Cortini shocked NIN fans across the world when he announced a sudden departure from Nine Inch Nails, one of his full-time projects since late 2004. Since then, Cortini has been working on a solo project, blindoldfreak, which involves only Cortini and various Buchla synthesizers. blindoldfreak released an EP simply titled "1" which was limited to 100 physical CDs while also being available for download via iTunes and Amazon. Cortini has also been hard at work with friend and guitarist, Pelle Hillstrom (Forever Like Red) with their project, modwheelmood. Founded at the beginning of the century, modwheelmood has finally released a full length album, Pearls to Pigs, which compiles volumes 1-3 of the PtP EPs along with an extra song. Recently, I was able to talk to Alessandro about modwheelmood and blindoldfreak plans, what else he's been up to, and if he'd ever consider rejoining Nine Inch Nails for a future project.

Tony: So, right now, your first release under blindoldfreak, "1" is available for digital download while you've announced that "2" will be coming soon. What kind of a time table are we looking at?

Alessandro: Blindoldfreak's second release will come out before the end of this year! modwheelmood and other things are taking up most of my time at this moment, so it'll take a little longer than expected.

T: Past the LA show in March, what other tour plans do you have in store for blindoldfreak?

A: More recordings and collaborations with artists I have always wanted to work with and more shows, hopefully. Having spent time with Cyrus getting the Knitting Factory show together made us realize it would be great to do something together in the future. It also helps that we live in the same area, so we can get together easily.

T: What prompted the BOF tour in Canada?

A: It began with my visit at Concordia University where I was invited to play a show and for a lecture on modular synthesis. Hugues D'amour (Random Transfer) set up other dates to play while I was there, and that's how the whole thing developed.

T: How was the overall atmosphere at each show? Refreshing? Terrifying?

A: I had a good time. I mostly did it for myself, so I had a great time every night, besides the times I could hear drunk people talking/screaming. In the end, it was a great tour, I made a lot of friends, I played my music in quad every night and it was a blast! I’m looking forward to do it again.

T: Describe the experience at Concordia. Is teaching something you'd like to continue to do?

A: Yes, I'd like to do more teaching. Besides Concordia, I had a chance to spend a week at Berklee in Boston where I was invited for a residency. I really enjoy teaching. It seems like it's the best way for me to learn new things, too.

T: Aside from the Buchla 200e, what other equipment are you using during your performance?

A: 2 x line6 delays, soon to be replaced as they are falling apart. I’m also using an Eventide H8000FW harmonizer, both in stereo and quad setup, when allowed.

T: Let's talk about modwheelmood. You guys are putting out PTP in a physical format in both CD and vinyl. Is there anything else that’s going to be released?

A: There is another PTP related release slated to come out right when the West Coast tour starts. It will include demos, alternate versions, etc. from the Pearls to Pigs sessions. I have been compiling it during the last few months and it's really entertaining to hear how some of the songs changed from their original ideas. I have always been a fan of demos and bootlegs, and I think they are an integral part of the proper release: without them, there wouldn't be any album!

T: Any tour plans or future show plans?

A: More dates will be added as we go. There is a possibility we'll be playing a couple of shows in NYC in July. We are trying to figure it out. Also, we plan on going out again in October/November. Still don't know where though! We are toying around with the idea of adding a band member in order to allow me to play with other things as opposed to trying to be Duff from GNR. There's no way I can be Duff and I need to stop now.

T: What is your process when you begin to write/compose music?

A: I usually sit in front of an instrument, most likely an electronic device of some sort that allows me to come up with something interesting. That sparks an idea which slowly evolves into something else; either a song or a less concrete composition. I used to obsess over trying to come up with finished ideas, but nowadays I try to be creative every day, and "archive" every new thought, whether it is a song or just a sound. I have learned that most likely I will go back to them and finish what I started, in one way or another. Kinda vague, I know.

T: Your lyrics convey a different series of emotions with each song. Is there an experience that they're based around or are they indicative of the mood of the song?

A: Again, it really depends on the song. Most of the time, both the music and the lyrics change and develop as we work on the song, so it changes all the time.

T: Will BOF expand to more than just the Buchla or is that the be-all, end-all platform for the project?

A: It will most likely expand. Right now I have been playing a lot with both Buchla 200 and 200e systems, along with an Eventide Harmonizer. We'll see what happens. I don't think too much about what to do when I work on blindoldfreak stuff. I try to sit in front of the box and come up with something that makes me happy. Not a lot of planning behind it.

T: We talked about your production of Ladytron's latest record last time; are there any other projects you're producing right now?

A: Not at the moment. There are things planned for the future but nothing I can talk about right now.

T: Playing BOF live, you used the 200e after showing off a much larger Buchla in several YouTube videos. Do you plan on using the larger Buchla live? Also, do you plan on using it for recording any of the EPs?

A: I plan on using the smaller one, for the sake of portability and transportation. I am trying to build a small portable suitcase, similar to my EAR system, but for the Buchla: that way I can bring it on a plane with me, as opposed to checking it in. I am already scared of flying as is, and Ii don't like to be thinking about my system being thrown left and right inside the belly of the plane, on top of that! I have used the larger Buchla live once, but while it's an amazing instrument, is nowhere nearly as versatile as the 200e, in a concert environment. I do however integrate original 200 modules into the 200e cabinet from time to time.

T: Regarding your time in NIN, how was the overall experience during the Lights in The Sky Tour?

A: I had a great time, especially in the rehearsals phase when it was time to figure out the logistics of how to recreate songs/sounds. The shows themselves, while being impressive from a crowd's point of view, where somewhat repetitive and mechanical from a performance point of view, which it's sort of normal for a production of that size. Even the supposedly more eclectic/improvised moments such as the "ghosts" section became an exercise in repetition: quite the opposite of what they were created to be. I am really happy we were able to pull it off for that long, but I can't deny I was a lot happier when it was over.

T: Would you ever consider performing with NIN again?

A: I've spent 4 of my best years next to Trent and the NIN camp. It's been an incredible experience, both from a playing and learning point of view. The main reason I decided to leave was the need to dedicate more time to my own music and to work in a studio environment, as opposed to touring. While it might have seemed as a "bad" break up, I think everybody involved were/are aware of the reasons behind it and have put any bad feelings behind, if there were any. Some of the most memorable moments for me were the days spent in the studio with Trent working on Ghosts, as I feel I give my best in a creative environment, working with like-minded people. It might happen again, if the same situation arises in the future, but ultimately it's not just up to me, as you can imagine.

T: Some folks may or may not know this, but you're a pretty avid gamer. What games are you playing right now?

A: Just finished FEAR2 on PS3, played Half Life 2, Ep. 1 and 2 AGAIN (for the 3rd time) and Fallout 3. Little Big Planet has been on heavy rotation too. Both my girlfriend and I like to play it, luckily. I also play a little bit of drums on GH3, since it seems to be the only way I can enjoy that game. I suck with guitar controllers. The drumming part makes me feel like I actually improve some skills I wouldn't be able to refine otherwise.

T: Speaking of Little Big Planet, have you had a chance to create any levels?

A: Not really...it's far beyond my abilities.

T: Guitar Hero is a old favorite of mine. Speaking of which, have you heard of DJ Hero that's supposed to be coming out? Your thoughts?

A: Who knows? Might be fun. There are too many games!

T: Are you guys planning on releasing any other MWM material anytime soon?

A: There is another album in the works. The songs are written and some of them have been recorded already. We plan to rehearse them as a band in July/August and to have the album recorded and mastered by the end of the year in order to release it early 2010.