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.



Sound of mind – New releases

This is not a regular feature, but I thought it would be good to highlight new albums released today that fall into Arcana’s ‘circle of interest’ – the idea being that listening to them or hopefully even buying them will reward the creators in these difficult times. So, without further ado…

Víkingur Ólafsson releases his much-anticipated third album for DG today. A collection of music for keyboard by Rameau and Debussy, it has the hallmarks of Ólafsson’s meticulous presentation, and – I suspect – his meticulous and intimate approach, which has proved so effective with his albums of Philip Glass Etudes and Bach keyboard music.

Sticking with classical music but moving ever so slightly closer to Hollywood, the Sinfonia of London and John Wilson release their third collaboration on Chandos today. It sees them returning to Korngold, whose Symphony in F sharp major they played so brilliantly to celebrate their rebirth as an orchestra. This time they are taking on the composer’s glitzy Violin Concerto, with soloist Andrew Haveron stepping up from duties as orchestral leader. This is coupled with the substantial String Sextet, a work definitely worth getting to know:

Switching on the power, we arrive at Daniel Avery and his collaboration with Nine Inch NailsAlessandro Cortini, Illusion Of Time. This is an intriguing match that on first listen is a successful blend of electronic soundscapes, with Avery’s wide open perspective and Cortini’s analogue synth sensibilities complementing each other:

It’s great to see Little Dragon back. The Swedish band have changed labels, arriving at Ninja Tune – and their sixth album New Me, Same Us. It finds them rejuvenated and pressing forward, with Yukimi Nagano providing the ever-distinctive vocals.

Moving outside of Europe we come to Tamikrest. I can’t pretend to have a good knowledge of African music, but here is a band I have latched onto for their unique blend of Tuareg music and rock. Their new record Tamotaït has the same thrilling combination of propulsive rhythms and heat-soaked atmosphere:

Finally – if you’re after a good house party for your nearest and dearest – you would do well to consider including some of the new Dua Lipa album! She may not be someone who needs the investment, but you can guarantee good vibes throughout Future Nostalgia, especially when the likes of hit singles Don’t Start Now and Physical are present.