Switched On – Daniel Avery & Alessandro Cortini: Illusion of Time (Phantasy)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Daniel Avery and the Nine Inch Nails’ Alessandro Cortini began working together in 2017 with the remotely-achieved collaboration Sun Draw Water, a limited release whose promise hinted heavily at greater things to come.

They completed Illusion of Time a year later when both were touring with the Nine Inch Nails themselves. Since then Avery has delivered Drone Logic, one of 2018’s finest electronic albums, and Cortini has also excelled in a solo capacity with Volume Massimo, clearing the decks for the release of this 45-minute work.

What’s the music like?

Illusion of Time is all about atmosphere, and the ability to press pause on life itself, achieved through an often fascinating blend of analogue electronics and atmospherics. The description from the promotional material of ‘quietly powerful’ is very accurate, and is achieved without any use of drums or percussion.

While that implies much less emphasis on rhythm, Avery and Cortini use textures, pitch and slowly drawn out melodies to create considerable tension and release. The likes of Enter Exit, an expansive track on a bed of white noise, or the first track Sun, emerging through a crackle of white noise and atmospherics, embody this. They alternate slowly between pitches, with indistinct sounds passing across the stereo picture. The title track then gets a more definitive loop that oscillates at an easy pace.

Inside The Ruins is ominous, to these ears at least painting a picture of oppressive history within a decrepit building. It may stand still but there are dark shadows and unseen hazards at hand. By complete contrast, At First Sight has a wonderful depth to surround its soft-centred loop. This steady pulse is the closest Illusion of Time gets to percussion, the bass notes marking time beneath thick swirls of ambience and a piercing melody of otherworldly beauty.

Water, the longest piece of music, is literally a deep dive, dark hues of blue and purple coming to mind as the music gains wonderful depth. It runs seamlessly into Stills, a coda based on a single, warm chord with a foamy crescendo that sinks back to nothing.

Does it all work?

Yes. Time spent listening closely to this album brings the most rewards, for Avery and Cortini are masters of their craft, carefully selecting their blend of sounds to describe the unseen subject matter. Their music is ultimately calming, but with frissons of danger and darkness around the edges.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Illusion of Time is a fascinating meeting of minds, which ends up being the ideal collaboration in the sense that we end up with an equally divided – and united – musical approach. It may fall into the category of ‘ambient’, but with descriptive picture painting and ever-shifting sounds it has a great deal of depth too.

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