The two electronic musicians mark their collaborative album Illusion of Time with an atmospheric mix
Illusion of Time, the new, collaborative album from Daniel Avery and Alessandro Cortini, tooks years to develop and hours to complete. Before their collaboration, Avery and Cortini had both been mutual fans of each other’s work – Avery as a club producer and DJ, Cortini as a synth musician and composer, as well as a keyboardist for Nine Inch Nails – and they decided to work together to coincide with their dual appearances at FYF festival in Los Angeles in 2017. The result was “Water” and “Sun”, a 7” single that the duo produced remotely, before they’d even met, that ended up inspiring them to continue working together more. They would send each other track ideas and sketches back-and-forth, but they weren’t able to finish their work until Avery was opening for Nine Inch Nails in 2018. In a makeshift studio set up in a hotel room, they wrapped up their work within a single session.
True to its title, Illusion of Time is a record that feels shorn of a particular time, place, or context. Both musicians were living similar lifestyles during its recording – touring the world, playing music, waking up in different hotel rooms every night – but on different timezones, as if they were on the same wavelength but in parallel dimensions. This dream logic is expressed in its dust-hazed atmospheres and droning electronics. Prior to the album’s release, we asked Avery and Cortini to put together our latest Dazed Mix, an ambient selection that expands the sound world of Illusion of Time. We also caught up with them over the phone to discuss the record.
Starting at the beginning – Alessandro, am I right in saying that you were the one who orchestrated Daniel coming on tour with Nine Inch Nails?
Alessandro Cortini: That’s the middle, actually. The beginning is that we both got in touch via social media. I can’t remember if I reached out to Daniel saying I was really into (his debut album) Drone Logic, or Daniel reached out to me saying he was into the stuff I was doing, but either way, we connected. The collaboration idea came from Daniel in relation to FYF festival in LA, which he was DJing at and which Nine Inch Nails were playing at. Daniel had the idea of doing something special for that, which we did by composing two pieces and releasing them on a very limited 7” that was sold only at the festival.
I don’t think there were plans to do a bigger record. What I think happened was that Daniel sent more than one or two ideas to be developed, so when we decided that those two ideas were going to be for a 7”, there was still some stuff left to work on. I think that set everything in motion for working on something else. It wasn’t clear what it was going to be, but we had such a good time working on each other’s music that we didn’t question it too much. We just kept on going.
Most of the time musicians connect on social media, they don’t end up working together. What was different about this?
Daniel Avery: I just got the impression from Alessandro’s music that we would have a connection. I can’t really explain it beyond that. It turned out that my hunch was correct. Those two tracks, “Sun” and “Water”, had a magic to them the second we finished them, so it felt natural that we would want to do some more. The entire process, from the 7” record right up to finishing Illusion of Time, felt like this organic combination of tastes, backgrounds, and methods. We didn’t have to labour over any part of this record, it was always a joy to finish something. It was an exciting period, over the course of two-and-a-bit years.
It was an entirely different way of working for me. We didn’t talk about influences or what this record should or could be, we were just making music that felt good to us and trusted that we would share enough of this energy between us that something good would come out.
It’s funny that you said you didn’t discuss influences. I usually have a question about that, but this time I haven’t – probably because the album sounds like your influence was each other.
Daniel Avery: That’s 100 per cent correct.
Alessandro Cortini: When somebody asks me about that, it reminds me of when I would go out with a friend and my mum would ask, “Who are their parents?” (laughs) I’m not too interested in what Daniel grew up listening to musically, because the way that he digested it is what I connected to.
You worked on the album remotely. Does that mean that FYF festival was the first time you actually met?
Daniel Avery: We didn’t even meet then.
Alessandro Cortini: We played on different days.
Daniel Avery: The first meeting was at the Nuits Sonores festival in Lyon. I curated a day and asked Alessandro to play live. That was the only time during the whole process – until the Nine Inch Nails US tour happened and we had an off-day in New York, where Alessandro had a small makeshift studio in his hotel room and we started to piece together what we’d been working on. After a few hours we just said, “I think we have an album here.” We recorded one more piece for it and that was it. Like every other part of the process, it was incredibly straightforward.
“We’re both fans of music that has a dreamlike quality to it, an otherworldly quality... we were pushing the atmosphere, the dusty sound of those machines, just to give it that dreamlike quality” – Daniel Avery
If the collaboration was so natural, what qualities in the music, sonically or texturally, did you realise you were unconsciously gravitating towards?
Daniel Avery: We’re both fans of music that has a dreamlike quality to it, an otherworldly quality. Something we decided to push – we never had a conversation about this, but it was clear that we both had the same idea at the same time – was the general static sound of the album. Usually you hide those things, but we were pushing the atmosphere, the dusty sound of those machines, just to give it that dreamlike quality. That was the first thing I noticed that we were doing simultaneously.
Alessandro Cortini: On the ‘dreamlike’ situation, we were both travelling a lot, so I would listen to it either walking through an airport, or in a car, or looking outside the window of a plane. Like a dream, it becomes a part of you. That’s a completely different dynamic than me being able to listen to the track in the studio and deciding, “I’m a musician, I’m in the studio, Daniel sent me this, what am I going to add?”
Daniel Avery: It feels like a very international record in that regard. We were listening to it all over the world, in different timezones. Waking up to a new piece in my inbox from Alessandro was always a total rush. To go a bit further with that, I think the record is listened to best solo on headphones. It has a comforting nature, a warmth to it that has been fed into it from this idea of solitude. The road can become a lonely place, but with music and the ability to make music, you’re never alone truly. This record is something of a love letter to that idea.
What’s one thing you’ve taken from the collaboration that you’ve brought to your solo music?
Daniel Avery: The collaboration began as I was finishing my last solo album, Song for Alpha, which I’d been working on for close to five years at that point. Working with Alessandro helped me finish that. Alessandro’s belief in letting music have a life of its own and the importance he places on the first take, almost championing imperfections rather than trying to hide them – all of those things really hit home with me.
Alessandro Cortini: For me, it’s the opposite of what Daniel said. What he says is true, in terms of how I tend to approach things, but that sometimes leads me to ignore certain aspects of the composition, simply because I’m anxious about revisiting ideas. Having Daniel on the other end, there would be stuff that would come up where I’d say, “I didn’t think of that.” That allowed me to expand the way that I look at music without being too meticulous about it. It’s like looking at things with a higher resolution – which is great, because it doesn’t influence the spontaneous approach of it, but it does allow you to zoom out and see more of it.
When you listen back to the record, can you tell who did what?
Alessandro Cortini: Some of it, sure. Some of it, I’d have to ask Daniel. Even when we were mixing, I couldn’t remember. I’d ask Daniel for a file and he’d say, “No, you did that.” In things like songwriting, which doesn’t really apply to our world, certain percentages have to be respected, but on this album there were pieces that Daniel brought where I just added a layer of noise, as I felt like that was the only thing missing, and other pieces where Daniel sent a pad and I developed chord progressions. In the end, what counts is the result.
You’ve done our latest Dazed Mix, which like the record itself was worked on remotely. Was there an idea behind it, or did it also just fall into place?
Daniel Avery: We didn’t think about it too much. These are just things that make up the wider world that Illusion of Time fits into.
Alessandro Cortini: Daniel is definitely much more experienced when it comes to mixes than I am. I can do one or two, then I run out of ideas. Daniel was good at taking my submissions and making it work in a way that makes total sense. If it were up to me, I’d probably be crying by the end of this.
You have something from the Resident Evil 2 soundtrack in the mix. If you were asked to soundtrack a video game, what sort of game would it?
Daniel Avery: Whatever you’ve got!
Alessandro Cortini: Fuck yeah. We both grew up in the 90s with two thumbs, we’d love to do any games.
01. Resident Evil 2, “The Front Hall”
02. Daniel Avery & Alessandro Cortini, “Sun”
03. Final, “Flow River Flow”
04. Deathprod, “OCCULATION 5”
05. Daniel Avery & Alessandro Cortini, “Inside the Ruins”
06. Steve Hauschildt, “Cloudloss”
07. Ulla, “Leaves & Wish”
Daniel Avery & Alessandro Cortini’s Illusion of Time is out March 27