Switched On: Alessandro Cortini: Scuro Chiaro (Mute)

alessandro-cortini

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

A new album from Nine Inch Nails’ multi-instrumentalist Alessandro Cortini, Scuro Chiaro is a play on the word ‘chiaroscuro’, which means ‘the use of light and shadow to give strong contrast’.

As he did on previous solo opus Volume Massimo, Cortini has revisited old personal recordings for the building blocks for a new piece of work. Using these sounds and elements in a new context has enabled him to compose eight dramatic pieces using the contrast of the title to powerful effect.

What’s the music like?

Cortini’s music is compelling from the off, operating in long phrases that seem quite relaxed to start with, but actually build up a good deal of tension. This is heightened by the use of contrasting tones – some harsh distortion is involved, but that is complemented and often cushioned by soft synth pads. The long, sustained notes of Ecco set the scene over the steady heartbeat of a bass drum, after which Chiaroscuro itself stretches over a wide canvas, the music slowly shifting in a gorgeous chorale.

The pace of the album is refreshing, Cortini unwilling to put too much on the palette when the colours in place are already striking. Sempre is a great example of this, creating great tension with the slightest of pitch shifts that puts it in and out of harmony. Verde also has minimal roots, growing from primitive beginnings to a powerful whole, all the while using the same loop.

A few earlier influences creep into Cortini’s work, notably early Jean Michel Jarre in Lo Specchio, while the work of German pioneers of the 1970s are also visible at times. Yet this is music with a deeply personal resonance too.

Does it all work?

Yes. The colours Cortini uses are striking, and the structuring of his tracks is beautifully achieved. Not a note is wasted.

Is it recommended?

It is – an album of electronica with real conviction and depth. Scuro Chiaro is ambient music, but not without scenes of tension and drama.

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