Mario Diaz de Leon creates music in various capacities. As a composer of modern classical works, he released an acclaimed series of albums (featured in the New York Times, Pitchfork, and New Yorker), and received commissions from the Los Angeles Philharmonic and International Contemporary Ensemble. As Oneirogen, he released several albums of heavy ambient electronics via the Denovali label, and performed internationally at venues including CTM Festival (Berlin), The Kitchen (NYC), and Donaufestival (Krems, Austria). He has also been active as the principal songwriter in industrial metal band Luminous Vault, and as one third of electroacoustic improvisation trio Bloodmist – in addition to his position as Assistant Professor of Music and Technology at Stevens Institute of Technology.
Heart Thread is the first electronic release under his own name. Across two side-long pieces crafted with the Max software and scored for an ensemble of synthesizers, woodwind timbres, and electronic percussion, the album conveys a pilgrimage from the meditative to the kinetic and back, pursuing an immersive, ecstatic sound that grounds the listener in sublimity and reverence, all while nodding to a personal spiritual practice. Heart Thread, Diaz de Leon explains, “is a way for me to explore sacred expressions of abundance – a technology for channeling mystical yearning or mystical experience.”
Like the journey on Heart Thread, Diaz de Leon’s path towards spirituality in music has been organic and intuitive, not to mention fully his own. Though he grew up without religion, he became interested in spirituality during his teenage years while playing both electronic music and hardcore, and absorbing the study of comparative mythology and Christianity. For years, Diaz de Leon has alluded to faith with titles that strike a balance between formal sonic description and things religiously charged.
Heart Thread documents two live electronic performances, and it’s in the interplay of repetition and continuously changing elements that Diaz de Leon feels something greater: “Improvisation with live electronics,” he explains, “offers me a practice where I am immersed in the sound day after day, with moment-to-moment details unfolding in dialogue with the machines.” On both songs, unconstrained, punctuating synthesizer stabs break through more regimented rhythms and sequences to dizzying effect, as computer-generated melodic variations unfold over formal structures. It’s by exploding, extending, and refracting classic songwriting that Diaz de Leon succeeds in crafting a metamorphic expedition. “These songs have a traditional aspect,” Diaz de Leon says, “an introduction, a verse, a chorus, an outro, but it’s been stretched out from four or five minutes to twenty minutes.” The proof is immediate – a tinkling, melodic synth sequence breaks the silence on “Heart Thread I” with a grounding series of notes that contextualizes the ensuing piece, one that comes and goes throughout the song’s twenty minutes. As consonant flourishes appear and disappear and new rhythms rear their heads, Diaz de Leon draws a parallel to spirituality: “moving through these different structures allows me to process mystical experiences… it’s like hearing divine creativity at play.”
text: Jordan Reyes
photo: Ebru Yildiz
homepage photo: Katrin Albert