Denovali releases Mario Diaz de Leon's latest record, The Soul is the Arena, featuring ICE on July 17. The album compiles two previously released works featuring Claire Chase and Joshua Rubin as soloists, along with the world premiere recording of Portals Before Dawn for ensemble. ICE flutist Alice Teyssier talks with Diaz de Leon about his decade-long relationship with ICE, the role of metal, mythology, mysticism in his music, as well as upcoming projects.
Alice Teyssier: We are so psyched that you are continuing your work with ICE! Can you talk a little bit about how your writing for Claire and Josh and the rest of the group has evolved since our first collaboration? (Was that in 2011?)
Mario Diaz de Leon: I’m amazed and beyond grateful that its been continuing for so long now. It actually started with a pre-ICELab program called “Young Composers Project” back in 2006. We did a premiere of mine in October of that year, with a piece called “Trembling Time” for 5 strings and flute. I was really excited about it because I had wanted to work with ICE for years, and the 2 shows we did went really well. I got to work with Dave Bowlin, Wendy Richman, Maya Papach, Eric Lamb - it was just great. But there were no plans beyond that one piece. Then in the summer of 2007, Claire got in touch and said that we should continue working together the following season, and asked if I had anything in mind. Her timing was amazing, because I had just signed a deal for an album with Tzadik. There was more music to write for the album when I signed, and older pieces to record, and we eventually spent the next two years finishing the album together. That was when we really started to collaborate closely – I wrote “The Flesh Needs Fire” and “Mansion” especially for Claire, Josh, Eric, and Nathan. The Tzadik album was finished and released in 2009, and Claire asked me to do the first round of ICELab about a year later. Which was amazing timing, again, because I was already going to ask them if they would do something similar, without knowing that they were starting this big program. We really wanted to present an evening length set of my works for the group. That’s when I wrote the music for this album, between 2010 and 2011. So the foundation was solid at that point, we had a history to build on, and there was certainly a lot of momentum leading up to it.
AT: It is clear through your performer persona and through your use of electronic music in particular that your background in hardcore punk and metal music still pervades your creative output. How do these different musical worlds reconcile themselves in your life? What are some techniques you use in your compositions that blend the genres?
MDdL: I think that living in NYC, and the amazing communities here, reconcile the differences and make it possible for me to do this. The scenes are really strong. In March, I performed at Saint Vitus two days before I had a string orchestra premiere at Roulette. A few weeks ago I finished a new Oneirogen EP and then I went straight into a new piano and electronics piece for Stephen Gosling. I’m debuting a new metal band this year at Martyrdoom Festival, I’ll probably be in the middle of writing a new piece for TAK when that happens. This has been my life, in one way or another, for many years, and I can say from experience that I need metal, electronic music, classical music, and free improvisation in my life, its part of survival for me. If one is missing I lose my sense of balance over time. And I’m beyond grateful to the people who make it possible for to do this. I’m also glad that Denovali is releasing the new ICE record, I’ve been working with them as Oneirogen since 2012, and if that makes it easier for people to experience these different sides of my work, that’s a good thing. I would say that the themes stay the same, regardless of style. All of the music, titles, lyrics, and imagery deal with personal spiritual experience, mythology, mysticism, etc. It’s an endless subject, and writing music for me is part of a spiritual practice. Sonically speaking, the electronic music is definitely a bridge. There are certain sounds and approaches that I use in all the projects….sub bass, “shimmering” sounds that fluctuate continuously, certain types of distortion, and formal structures that can suggest an abstract narrative over time, which for me relates to personal transformation, mythological themes of death and rebirth, etc. When I hear music, it’s a synesthetic experience, its both visual and physical, and I am drawn to sounds that I feel are charged with an inner life. Tone color, harmony, melody, rhythm, all the elements serve this in my music. I love this quote by Iancu Dumitrescu: “You could say that the use of distortion in the sound comes from the attempt to reveal the god that is living in every piece of base matter.” When first I read that, it changed the way I thought about metal and noise.
AT: The hardcore community spirit is so strong - do you find yourself gravitating towards other composers with similar backgrounds? Who are they?
MDdL: Yeah, for sure! There is a “core” of people I’m involved with whose work overlaps with metal, avant rock, electronic music and classical composition. But more important than background is attitude – intensity, urgency, imagination. MV Carbon, Doron Sadja, Toby Driver, Jeremiah Cymerman, Charlie Looker, Andrew Hock, Nick Podgurski, Mick Barr, Mahir Cetiz, Sam Pluta, Steve Lehman, Jay King, Nate Young, and John Zorn are some people in my community who inspire me a lot.
AT: What other pieces or composers do you hope to be programmed alongside? If you were to (hypothetically) curate an ICE concert which included Luciform, what would it look like?
MDdL: If it was for an ICE concert, it would be something like “Paths of Resistance” by Jason Eckardt, “Acmed” by Mick Barr, “Landscape of Fear” by Marcos Balter, “Machine Language” by Sam Pluta, “Okanagon” by Scelsi, and “Paradies” by Stockhausen.
AT: What's your next project? Any dream projects with ICE (let's publish them online so they have to happen!)?
MDdL: I’ll have a week of concerts at The Stone from August 11th – 16th, which is a retrospective of my work from 1999 to the present. Part of that is the album release show for the new album with ICE, on August 11th, with Kivie, Josh, and Claire. Then finishing up the first EP of Luminous Vault, which is a metal band I started with Andrew Hock. Oneirogen releases a new EP in September and then tours Europe in the first two weeks of October. The first Luminous Vault show is at Martyrdoom Festival in early November, here in Brooklyn at Saint Vitus. I’m also writing a new work for TAK Ensemble, my first with soprano voice.
There’s been some talk about recording a third album with ICE sometime next year, we still have pieces which are unreleased. Beyond that I would love to write a new large ensemble work for the group at some point, a few solo + electronic pieces for oboe and harp, and it would be great to travel and do some sets of this music at European festivals.