The heavy ambient sound of Mario Diaz de Leon | Bleader

The heavy ambient sound of Mario Diaz de Leon

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The cover of Hypnos
  • The cover of Hypnos
On his remarkable debut album as a composer, 2009's Enter Houses Of (Tzadik), Mario Diaz de Leon located the intersection of contemporary classical music and electronics and then pushed from there into the realm of noise, finding an artful balance between delicate, almost beautiful acoustic instrumentation and abrasive synthetic cacophony. A concert of his music presented by the International Contemporary Ensemble brought his charged juxtapositions into thrilling 3-D relief at the Velvet Lounge in November 2010.

As I wrote of the album back then:

On last year's fantastic Enter Houses Of he juxtaposes relatively conventional lines played by acoustic instruments—some of which are quite lovely—with abstract electronic sounds that can be confrontational, even brutal. On "Mansion" the gracefully twining alto flutes of Claire Chase and Eric Lamb are surrounded by sputtering low-frequency digital pulses, haunting waves of ambience, lacerating bursts of synthetic shrieking, and explosive drumming by Nathan Davis that alternates between ceremonial gravitas and psych-rock fury. On "The Flesh Needs Fire," Chase and clarinetist Joshua Rubin engage in swooping, acrobatic interplay while electronic noise builds in force, density, and nastiness. Diaz de Leon's writing for acoustic instruments tempers dissonance with flashes of serenity, and his rhythmic sensibility likewise balances frenetic intensity with near stillness. The electronic element of his music is much more than merely decorative—it's fully integrated, and alternately jostles, caresses, and dominates the other voices.

Mario Diaz de Leon
  • Mario Diaz de Leon
Given all this, I was pretty surprised when I heard Diaz de Leon's new album, Hypnos (Shinkoyo), which he created almost exclusively with synthesizers (he does play electric guitar on of the seven pieces, and another includes a bit of flute). But the change in instrumentation hasn't changed the harrowing darkness of his work. There are moments of artificial ethereality, where plasticized washes of synthetic sound recall the antiseptic calm of new age music, but they're routinely upended by rapidly pulsing arpeggios, extreme lower-register growls, and rudely distorted, striated tones. Diaz de Leon nods to low-rent horror-film soundtracks (a la John Carpenter or Goblin) but also incorporates whiplashing bursts of power electronics and the ambience of doom metal—all of which wafts, rips, and splatters through these drifty instrumentals. "Faithless" opens like a Tangerine Dream outtake from Risky Business, then suddenly takes a satanic-sounding detour, only to return to a kind of weird calm, like a post-nightmare awakening. Diaz de Leon's real accomplishment with Hypnos is the unexpected directions the pieces take—they hit you with one surprising shift after another, without ever sounding haphazard or goofy. Below you can listen to one such excursion.

Mario Diaz de Leon, "Consumed"

Today's playlist:

Os Brazões, Os Brazões (Som Livre)
Johnny Cash, The Fabulous Johnny Cash (Columbia/Legacy)
Solveig Slettahjell & Slow Motion Orchestra, Tarpan Sessions (Emarcy, Norway)
Seefeel, Seefeel (Warp)
Jacqueline Taieb, The Complete Masterworks of the French Mademoiselle (Anthology's)

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