On Pointe: Alessandro Cortini, Richard Horowitz, Lapalux
Taken together, the three reviews below encompass both the past and the current cutting edge in creative electronic music:
According to Alessandro Cortini, his record Avanti was made as a soundtrack to a rediscovered archive of home Super 8 films left behind by his late grandfather. Snippets of family gatherings and dinner-time conversations can be heard on most of the tracks, with an added reverb that gives them a more somber tone than they may have originally had. I write this not having any understanding of Italian.
At first listen to Avanti, I couldn’t help but think of Nine Inch Nails. Later, I learned that Cortini was a member of Nine Inch Nails for many years—he was a part of it, not merely inspired by it. In light of that, it’s interesting to hear a purely instrumental release based upon the harmonic movements, synth patterns, and noise which I know and love from the Nine Inch Nails albums over the years.
The first two tracks walk the line between ambient, noise, and downtempo instrumental pop. Generally, the structure of every track follows the same kind of mixing template. I’m tempted to call it a formal decision, but I don’t think that word fits what’s going on in this album. What Cortini has done is more of a mixing-room decision. You could take any ambient album, put a low pass filter on it (which decreases higher frequency content), and then slowly automate it to allow higher and higher frequencies to come through towards the end of a track.
I loved it on the first track, but this technique was a bit distracting to me in the course of listening to the entire album. At the very least, it is a de facto ode to the low pass filter in post production.
Most of the tracks begin with either voice samples, bass patterns, and/or subdued highs. Towards the end of the track, high frequencies increase in volume, along with more noise or distortion. This approach also gives each track on the album a consistent style, or stamp, which I suppose has some commercial value, in addition to whatever conceptual artistic value such a decision might have.
The opening track, “Iniziare,” features an ostinato bass pattern, which opens up to resolve in the most surprising way. The effect of the entire track is like a distant train slowly coming into view. The looping psychedelic pattern on “Aspettare”—in “Perdere,” too—remind me a lot of the harmonic structure and noise of Nine of Nails albums, albeit much more minimal and with with less “rock.” “Finire” is the one track that increases the frequencies of only the synthesizers, instead of resolving to a high frequency din of noise. I enjoyed this twist.
The next release is Eros in Arábia (1981), from Richard Horowitz, a Hollywood composer who has scored films like The Sheltering Sky and Any Given Sunday.
Common sonic threads in this eastern-sounding electro-acoustic album include the looped field recording, abundant ostinatos, and rapid, tightly clocked arpeggiator patterns. Aside from the ney cane flute, most of the instruments sound either digitally triggered, digitally processed, or both.
Dazzling stereophonic synth drones open this album on “Bandit Nrah Master of Rajastan.” Warm wooden pipes flourish atop this, with minimal backing percussion. Sixteenth- and thirty-second-note arpeggiated sequencer patterns adorn this album. Looping samples, often percussive in nature, are abundant. Overall, the album has a hyper, trance-like spirit—not the EDM genre, but rather the psychological state of trance.
Many of the tracks fall into the heading of psychedelic groove-based music. The epic “Elephant Dance” is one such. Especially reminiscent of Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air, some of the staccato synths are fairly dry, akin to early 2000s cell phone notification sounds.
Some of the album is dissonant, such as “Queen of Saba,” which incorporates the vocals of Sussan Deyhim. Described as one of Iran’s most potent voices in exile, Deyhim’s work is in both the tradition of Sufis and the late feminist poet, Forough Farrokhzad. She performs a tarīr, where vocals go low to high without any semantically meaningful words. “Queen of Saba” expresses the most haunting moods on the album.
“23/8 For Conlon Nancarrow” is a bit of free piano, played or sped up (I can’t tell which) at an Oscar Peterson-esque tempo. The sound includes catchy riffs in the style of popular jazz tunes, fed into a sampler to provide an unnerving, panicked sort of structure. It’s not the repetition of a guided meditation at work here, but the repetition that a mental disorder might provide. Not chaotic by any means, but perhaps forced via a nervous attempt to make sense of the world, or own it by repetition. At least, that’s what I hear in the track. All in all, Eros in Arabia is a worthwhile creative offering.
The third album, The End of Industry, is produced by Brainfeeder’s Lapalux, and it embodies a fresh take on the classic IDM aesthetic. The album is generously adorned with scores of unique, short sound samples, triggered rhythmically. The dazzling onslaught of flashy transients is tied together with tonal synth sounds. There are washy soundscapes as well, such as in “Alpha-Plus,” which could fit into the soundtrack of Stranger Things.
“The premise of this EP was to make something that resembled the current automated world we’re now living in,” Lapalux, née Stuart Howard, explains. “Computerized machines are now taking over a vast majority of industrial tasks and this EP is a window into that transitioning world.”
The EP’s sonic palette comes in part from self-modulating and self-generative modular patches and from recorded motifs and instrumentation, with heavy editing. “Having this human touch and adding a human aesthetic shows that human interaction is still necessary in the process of creation and manipulation,” Lapalux explains. “This EP is my take on the idea of the Human vs the Machine.”
The beats sound fresh to my ears, such as in “Smoke Streams.” 808-style kick drums vibrate the ground, but there is a sea of glitzy percussion morphing on top. Short melodic fragments weave the beats together, until an evocative, moody, poppy interlude emerges and ends up staying for the last half of the track. A pleasant twist, as I thought it was going to be a temporary modulation. The Lapalux album, among the three albums in this review, is surely the sound designer’s treat. Stereophonic, compressed, uncompressed, dazzling, and side-chained; it’s got it all.