"Even on the surface, we come from slightly different backgrounds. We soon discovered that we were both always drawn to a form of psychedelic music. A kind of music that feels like an escape from the world. Something that can take you somewhere else," Daniel Avery explains to us over the phone.
The birth of his collaboration album with Nine Inch Nails’ Alessandro Cortini, Illusion of Time, shouldn’t really come as a surprise, for multiple reasons. Sonically, there is always a dreamlike state lingering atop the minimal yet hard-hitting percussions in Avery’s music, created by textured atmospherics or ethereal melodies. In talking about the first two albums he released, in a 2018 interview, Avery mentioned that while he could see a younger version of himself in Drone Logic, Song for Alpha has more patience, and is more meditative. Experimentally ambient and lush, Illusion of Time is an expansion of that meditative part for him.
"The meditative side has been pushed even further... because that has become increasingly important in my life. All those things I have touched upon on Song for Alpha—the idea of escaping from the noise of the outside world—I think that has become more and more important in my life and I can hear that in this record," Avery adds. He sounds composed, calm. And he’s very particular about his choice of words. It took him a few tries to decide on the word he would use to describe why this record is something that "neither of us would have made on our own."
He finally settles on the word "trust." "There was a level of trust, that’s the best way to describe it. There was a great level of trust between Alessandro and I. And that’s really the element that made it feel straightforward and enjoyable. It was...definitely a lesson learned in trust and just allowing the music to flow between us, the energy to flow between us. In order for that to happen, you have to just take a step back and allow whatever happens to happen."
Let that sink in for a bit. When he says "trust," what we think we hear is "a long time of rapport," which is not wrong but not capturing the dynamic with 100% accuracy. Everything started back in 2017, when both of them were playing at Los Angeles's FYF Festival. "We decided we wanted to try and make some music for that festival, just as an experiment to see if we can try something. And that happened very quickly," Avery shares. The end result was the Sun Draw Water 7-inch record, which was solely sold at the festival. In the following two-and-a-half years, Avery and Cortini started going back and forth over the internet, sending each other music.
For the entirety of the collaboration, the absence of pressure and plan has clearly been the determining factor as he stresses multiple times: "There was no pressure...we had no plan. There was no idea we were gonna make an album. We just started making stuff, and it naturally became an album."Avery chuckled for a bit when we tried to confirm the actual physical time that the two of them got to spend together. "We only spent one day together in the studio, which was on the Nine Inch Nail tour. We had one afternoon together in a small studio at Alessandro’s hotel room. And we just kinda looked at each other and said, 'I think we had finished an album here,'" he adds. And that’s something we can sense from the album. In Avery’s own words, "there is a lot of space to breath and I think that comes from the lack of pressure. It was just an enjoyable experience."
Overall, the album is categorized by its wistful chords buried beneath blankets of soothing noise and smoky terrain of heavenly synth pads; or, at times, stripped-down yet bristling electronics are shrouded in glitchy atmospherics; more frequently, the textured analog sounds interlaces with a warm core to achieve catharsis. But it is hard to break down the album and analyze it track by track, as clearly the two producers have captured a state of mind beyond the soundscape.
Avery once defined psychedelic music as "music in which you can get truly lost," for "moments where you close your eyes and everything else just seems irrelevant" in an interview. In a way, the creation of Illusion of Time has served the same purpose. He was still working on Song for Alpha when they started the collaboration process. And Song for Alpha took five years to finish and occupied his head and life for a long time. When the new project came along, it just felt natural. "We both shared the idea of psychedelic noise that can take you somewhere else. And that’s the vein of the album," Avery emphasizes. It seems like creating the new project provided the getaway for him, as he later adds, "we worked hard but eventually the record grabbed us both and it took us somewhere we wanted to go."
Besides the escapism, there's a sort of "let it be" spirit echoed by the sound of the album. "In a way, we pushed the imperfection to the forefront. There is so much background noise and all the atmospheres that sound like vinyl cracked on stuff...a lot of that came from the machines we made it on. And usually it would be a standard studio process to hide all that, but we pushed that to the front," Avery explains. "The album you heard is everything we made."
The only thing that they had planned in the entire album is the track order. "I would encourage everyone to start from the beginning, and go with the record. Let the record take you somewhere, because that’s what the record did for us when we made it," Avery shares, as he later again stresses the importance of sticking to the track order. "The tracklist is a path of that. Put the records on, sit back and allow it to take you somewhere."
Made on the road, between cities, between the familiarities of home and the chaos of the road, this record is the ticket for you to escape somewhere from reality, which is now probably more valuable than ever. According to Daniel Avery, this album is best consumed when you’re traveling with your headphones. While we can’t travel now, at least we can embark on this introspective journey away from the turmoil with Illusion of Time.