Video: NIN's Alessandro Cortini on How to Use a Cassette Recorder as an Instrument

Please note: We had some mic'ing difficulties in the video above, so Alessandro's voice will sound a little boomy.

Back in 2017, we had a chance to talk briefly with Alessandro Cortini—electronic composer, synthesist, and keyboard player in Nine Inch Nails—about how he was using his Tascam Portastudio tape recorder as a "poor man's Mellotron."

While it wasn't our first time interviewing him—we first talked to him in 2015 and spoke again, earlier in 2017, when he was selling a great collections of synths through his Reverb shop—we wanted to learn more about the unique ways he uses his cassette recorder as an instrument in its own right.

In the video above, we dive into plenty of the particulars, with Alessandro playing music off of his latest solo album Avanti. (To hear more, see his video for the track "Perdonare.")

For his cassette recorder, Cortini prefers a Tascam 414 because of its pitch-control knob and channel EQs, but any four-track will work similarly. Tascam's 424 mkII also has the same controls, along with a few extra features. By bouncing recordings from his DAW to the Portastudio, he's able to then play and manipulate four individual tracks of music.

After recording a composition into Apple Logic, he converts the arrangement in his DAW session into four different parts and puts them each on a track of the four-track tape. Then, with the Tascam's four faders and channel strips, along with a host outboard effects, he can decide which parts of the arrangements to emphasize and effect.

While on tour performing his 2017 album Avanti, Alessandro's go-to pedals included the Mr. Black Eterna Gold Modified shimmer reverb and the Strymon Timeline Delay. An Ibanez Nutube Tube Screamer provides the pre-reverb drive.

As just one example of how his arrangements can be split, Alessandro will have a main melody on track one, the bass on track two, and then effects and atmospheric sounds from the DAW session split into stereo on tracks three and four. But he has a collection of tapes containing his own music and NIN arrangements, like "Came Back Haunted" and "Hurt," some of which he shows off in the video as well.

Alongside the tape recorder rig, he's also triggering samples from a Teenage Engineering OP-Z, which goes through an EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run stereo delay and reverb.

Be sure to watch the full video to learn about Cortini's creative use of a four-track tape recorder.

Have your own preferred tape recorder setup? Let us know your rig in the comments.

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