guest post by Places Parallel reader, Emerald
A week-long tour through Canada in the middle of February? “In what universe is this a good idea?” you might ask. Apparently, it made perfect sense to Alessandro Cortini (Modwheelmood, ex-Nine Inch Nails). Cortini is otherwise known as blindoldfreak: a man and his Buchla synthesizer.
As well fans know, he gave a lecture and performed at Concordia University in Montreal. Perhaps this is what led him to think that a Canadian mini-tour would be a good idea, but far be it from me to presume that I know what goes on in the man’s head.
The abundance of weeknight dates, as well as the distance, seemed to be prohibitive factors, and I’d resigned myself to being unable to go. I did entertain the idea briefly—I’m in Detroit, and Canada is only a bridge away—but decided in the end I just couldn’t hack it.
Until my Livejournal acquaintance Lacie, who lives on the other side of the state from me near the Indiana border, posted an entry stating her intention to haul herself and her sister Kristin to the Great White North to see everyone’s favorite Italian. This restored my hope, and I commented on the entry, stating my interest in joining her. She agreed to let me tag along, and we proceeded to plan. I also agreed to take CD and T-shirt orders from various acquaintances on nin.com and the unofficial Modwheelmood forum in an effort to spread the love.
It’s one thing to meet people from the Internet in real life, but quite another to meet them and THEN go road-tripping with them. Luckily, we all hit it off pretty much from the get-go and made good time driving through Michigan’s thumb. The only slight hitch in our harebrained scheme was when we crossed the Bluewater Bridge between Port Huron, MI and Sarnia, ON. Immigration, it turns out, wanted to have a little talk with us. It’d been a while since Lacie and Kristin were last in Canada, but my most recent trip was to Niagara Falls back in July. We were asked the same series of questions by three different officers, got our official slip stamped, and then we were allowed to go off on our merry way. The entire ordeal took up perhaps a half-hour of our time. We exchanged our greenbacks for Monopoly money and drove off into the Canadian wilderness.
After a quick pit stop in a little town called Delaware, we made it to Toronto with little trouble, marveling a bit at the sudden imposition of civilization after miles—er, kilometers of nothing and more nothing. We navigated through downtown traffic, got to the hotel, and freshened up before taking on the town. On the map , our hotel appeared to be a relatively short walk from the venue, the Drake Hotel. It was really a long, hard hike—perhaps ten city blocks at least. That’ll teach us to pay more attention to map scales.
Upon finding the venue, we decided to get something to eat that wasn’t crackers or Fruit Roll-Ups at a “Chinese-Canadian” restaurant about a block away. We still had a ton of time to kill after eating dinner, so we went to scope out the venue, only to find this embarrassing sight just outside:
We shrugged it off and entered, where we were directed by the woman at the door to kill time in the lounge until the doors opened at 8:00. We took up residence at the far end of the bar and fired up our collective Cortini-sense. (Fun fact about me: I can nurse a beer for an hour.) We saw a few guys who resembled him in one way or another, but they were all clever decoys. When Lacie and Kristin came to their second round, the waitress asked Kristin what she’d like, and Kristin paused a moment to think. The answer was quick in coming. See, after the Nine Inch Nails show in Grand Rapids back in November, Kristin started joking to Lacie that she’d like a “Cortini Martini.” The joke was too good to pass up, and so Kristin asked the bartender to mix up something martini-like but citrusy. The result is this, a crazy delicious mix of strawberry vodka, triple sec, and orange juice:
Around 7:30 or so, we decided we’d killed enough time and decided to check out the basement (also the location of the show). In the restroom, we got silly pictures of all of us helicoptering, in a homage to this pic. There I am, look at me go:
On the way out of the bathroom, I nearly got knocked over by a venue staffer opening a door. The guy explained to us that the door time had been pushed back to 9:00, and we were at a loss as to how to kill the extra time. After a short period of hemming and hawing (during which we eavesdropped on a conversation about the feud between nin.com, The Spiral, and Echoing the Sound), we left and went to the Starbucks down the street. After about 45 minutes hanging out there, chasing alcohol with caffeine, we went BACK to the venue, where we were herded into the lounge yet again by the same asshat staffer! Our Cortini-sense tingled yet again at the guy sitting behind us with headphones and a book (who does that in a bar?!), but we suspect I might have caught a glimpse of the real Cortini heading through the lobby on his way outside, phone in hand.
Finally, we were able to enter the venue. When they said it was a basement, they weren’t lying. We estimate that the headcount must’ve been around sixty or so. There was a proper stage as well as a makeshift stage set up in the middle of the floor, the highlight of which was two Buchlas (Buchlae?). Protip: The smaller of the two was Alessandro’s,
though the other one closely resembled the one featured in this video.
We immediately spotted Alessandro across the room setting up his merch and fought not to freak out too bad. There was a line of people waiting to talk to him and buy CDs and shirts, so we hung back and waited until after the first set to approach him. When I was able to hear myself think and the urge to lose my lo mein subsided, we walked over to him.
Allow me to preface the following remarks by saying that Alessandro Cortini is probably the sweetest man I’ve ever met, and unfailingly nice to everyone, as far as I could tell. He introduced himself to each of us by name with a handshake and a smile, regardless of the fact that we knew damn well who he was (in the words of Lacie, “We’re here to see you”). Lacie did most of the talking at first, asking about whether the cold had gotten to him and prompting him to explain that the Guelph show had been cancelled due to him falling ill. Kristin piped up at one point with a joke about what would happen if we messed with the Buchla’s patch cords, to which I replied, “Terrible things, terrible things,” in an effort to reassure Alessandro that nothing would happen to it, not on my watch at least. We asked about the CDs, but they were sold out (damn!), so we moved on to other business.
I handed him my copy of Modwheelmood’s Enemies & Immigrants with the opening line, "I'd like this signed for my friend [Rowan] in Scotland." She’d emailed him asking how to get a physical copy, and I went ahead and bought it for her off Amazon. I'd placed a Post-It note with her name written on it on the front. He took one look at it and said, "Oh yeah, she's the one who emailed me about getting a CD." He proceeded to explain that Buddyhead Records is basically sitting on boxes and boxes of MWM CDs which they apparently can't be bothered to send to him! I told him that I’d bought it in an effort to “expedite the process,” and he took it from me to sign, asking where would be best to do so. He ended up signing it in multiple places (he’s a lefty, for you trivia buffs out there), even taking the CD from me to write a little note to her in the liner notes: “I didn’t forget to send it to you!!”
Alessandro also signed my copy of Ghosts I-IV and got pictures with each of us. Lacie told me later that she feared I would pass out, because I apparently went white as a sheet. Judge for yourselves:
The last order of business was getting some T-shirts: “One more thing, and I swear to God I’ll leave you alone,” I promised. Those stocks were running a little low as well, so I contented myself to fill what orders I could. I handed him the money, and he saw us off with another grateful smile. I don’t know how I managed not to scoop him up and take him home.
There were two other performers before the blindoldfreak set: the first being a duo, the female half of which played an impressive but obtuse thing called “The Persephone,” and then the owner of the larger Buchla. None of the performers, Alessandro included, took the stage with any amount of fanfare, and it wasn’t until after the show that I got any indication of names and performance order. I noticed Alessandro hanging around in the crowd during both sets, getting pictures and video like any other appreciative fan.
And then it was his turn. Of all the performers, the blindoldfreak set was probably the most tuneful and concerned with musicality rather than just sound design. The show was billed as being in “quadraphonic sound,” and because I was standing between two speakers, I could feel as well as hear everything. There were no discernable songs—it was like one long song, but with transitions from one movement to the next.
It’s remarkable how much sound can come out of one machine. More remarkable still is the fact that with the turn of a knob or the press of a button, the entire mood of the room changed, and changed again. Videos, unfortunately, cannot do the experience justice. As much as I’d like to joke about how goofy the phrase “quadraphonic sound” seems, it truly added a whole new dimension to the performance. I didn’t really understand it until I moved around to get better pictures.
Also, gotta respect the dedication. He did the entire show while kneeling!
We left not long after the set, due to being profoundly tired. I wanted to say something to Alessandro as I left—after he left the stage, he was standing behind us, talking to some people. But I didn’t want to interrupt, and besides, we had a long walk ahead of us. I hope he saw my little wave in his general direction as I walked away.
We left Toronto the next morning, driving back through the Canadian bleak, but unable to shut up about how wonderful the previous night was.
You can check out more photos here and here courtesy of Em, Lacie, and Kristin. And be sure to check out Alessandro in action via some video Lacie was able to capture.