SPARK AND EARTH [CD|LP|DIGITAL]
Mario Diaz de Leon plays with forces in his music that, at first glance, seem opposed. He makes metal with his band Luminous Vault, diaphanous electronic sounds as a soloist, and writes modern classical compositions. Thematically, too, his works explore opposites, growing from both earthbound and metaphysical ideas. With Spark and Earth, he endeavors to bring all of these contrasts into one place and, in the process, he finds metamorphosis.
Diaz de Leon began making solo electronic music under his own name with 2022’s Heart Thread, which wove pulsing textures and bubbling phrases. Heart Thread was also his first foray into bringing his beliefs to the foreground of his music; the album takes its name and inspiration from the idea that there’s a continuum of flow that leads the listener to an intimate spiritual connection. With Spark and Earth, he goes even further into these facets of himself. Here, he blends both his solo guitar playing—the first time it’s heard under his given name—with his electronic music. He also explores another facet of his faith: the “spark” on Spark and Earth represents the Holy Spirit, or divine spark, while the “earth” is a metaphor for the body. The two together serve as reminders that divinity isn’t untouchable, it’s right there in the body’s movement. As Luke 17:21, one of Diaz de Leon’s oft-referenced quotes, says: “…look, God’s kingdom is inside you all.”
Diaz de Leon composed Spark and Earth throughout the past couple of years, writing and recording between home and his studio at Stevens Institute of Technology. He began the process by sculpting riffs on his electric guitar, then bringing in detailed electronic patterns to interlace with them. The synthesized sound of woodwinds and dulcimer glimmer around his thrashing and simmering guitar, forming short but powerful vignettes that feel luminescent and find potency in a blend of grittiness and gossamer phrases.
While he was crafting this music, Diaz de Leon was taking classes in alchemy at the Golden Dome School. His teacher, Eliza Swann, was a longtime friend who led the course, which focused on the bridge between alchemical principles and creative work. It was a good fit for him—he’s spent the better part of his time as a musician studying alchemical texts and imagery on his own and incorporating those ideas into his graphic design and electroacoustic music (see: 2007’s “The Flesh Needs Fire,” for example).
But even though he had a past interest in alchemy, this class lit up a new path. The practice opened Diaz de Leon’s mind about bringing the contrasting elements of music together, not shying away from their differences. Instead of looking at them as forces acting against each other, he saw how uniting them could create something new and dissolve the tension between them. In Diaz de Leon’s words: “The water element heals the binary and creates fluidity so I'm not rigidly stuck between one or the other. The fire element heats up the will to transform.” You can hear this melding in his music: Sharp electric guitar riffs slice through hazy electronics, but more often than not, they link up, creating ecstatic swirls of sound. It’s akin to the duality of Spark and Earth: When combined, the elements can make something even more radiant.