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Album Review: Alessandro Cortini – Risveglio

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On his second full-length of 2015, electronic composer Alessandro Cortini demands a state of surrender. Risveglio is not background music, though it’s quiet, repetitive, and wordless. It invites you into a way of listening that’s a little like marveling at architecture: Everything follows structural patterns, and the beauty happens in the subtle deviations from rigid form.

Compared to Cortini’s recently wrapped Forse trilogy, Risveglio — Italian for “awakening” — comes across a little sleepy. It’s mostly made up of rhythmic bass tones, dropping the sparkling washes of Forse 3 in favor of warm, flat oscillations. Cortini wrote these 10 tracks (plus an alternate take on one) on two synthesizers: his standby, the Roland 202, and a newcomer, the Roland TB303. The additional instrument deepens his sound somewhat, though it also seems to have narrowed the boundaries of his compositions. Cortini syncs the TB303 to the 202, creating a symbiotic bond that pulses through the entire album.

Of the album’s 55 minutes, “La Sveglia” contains the most mystery, the quivers in its chord progressions signaling a deep unrest at its core. Cortini draws in a few wisps of treble to offset the track’s steady beat, all to create the impression of something that’s moving away quickly and must be chased. There’s also a sadness hanging from the way the chords move around each other, a glimpse of emotionality that stands out inside a mostly sterile and technical album.

Risveglio offers moments of beauty to the patient listener, but its overall stillness tends to render it opaque. Cortini asks you to stay in one place for just shy of an hour to engage with an album that’s always moving and yet resists motion at the same time. Even in its more percussive moments, like “Rispetto”, Risveglio feels nervous but stuck. Listening to it in one sitting is like fixing your eyes on a single point in space until your vision starts to smear and shiver; things appear to move even when they don’t go anywhere.

As an object of meditation, Risveglio holds enough structure and intrigue to keep your attention through its lengthy runtime. The album feels like a careful study of new techniques, but the end result never breaks into more than a simmer. Its points of mystery stay shrouded, and its eeriest moments never fully plunge into their own darkness.

Essential Tracks: “La Sveglia”

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