There’s a mythical register to Mario Diaz de Leon’s Cycle and Reveal that is hard to explain, but that seems to come from a certain classicism in the overall development of the music. I’m not referring to the inventions of 18th century musicians that thought a sonata would surely approach the naturalist methods of the Greeks of old. Rather, thanks to sections that do sound similar to archaeological reconstructions of ancient music, this album sounds archaic. Its classicism is modernist, one that allows the distance of a world altogether different to ours grow and alienate, letting listeners experience a chasm so vast it makes reason yield to intuition. Its use of minimalism, synths and various electronics irrupt, however, that sensation of listening to something too far off to understand. The album’s ground, then, is constantly in movement, as piercingly classical as it is soothingly contemporary.
The “Sacrament” that introduces us to the rest of this old-new ritual is particularly brilliant, in every sense of the word, a spiritual elevation in a language of our own that beautifully proceeds to unravel into the haze of something lying beyond tongues. The sound of the marimba is the master of this rite, around which the winds and the synths flutter like dancers, tracing various patterns that overlap and drift away. This is where Cylce and Reveal’s classicism acquires another dimension, this time indeed related to 18th century inventions: the purity of form. Every element, even at its noisiest, is crystal-clear, and the ways in which the instruments interact flow like conversations, their musicality turned into lines and shapes that overlap without ever juxtaposing as collage. Like Yuria Okamura’s cover art, they draw themselves into forms previously unseen, hidden and essential, just lines and shapes.
“Labrys”, which begins with what sounds like an archaic Greek melody, soon develops into a series of call-response bits between synths and bassoon, imitating their phrases and shooting notes across as if they were chasing each other. After a while, they coincide perfectly, creating a strange, unique, powerful voice that holds new sway over the ritual dance, with electronics flickering in and out like flames until the voice grows quiet. It is perfectly followed by “Irradiance”, the penultimate track, which initially blasts cello riffs so harsh they sound like horns, worthy of the ancients’ tragic prowess, so grave and estranging that they almost hint of violence. The fallout from this first explosion is electronic noise and even harsher cello riffs, a sound of straining so dense its destruction seems inevitable. Their ultimate end comes in the form of collage, a surprising turn not too long before the album’s end, with electronics almost sweeping away the classicism of the music so far.
I say almost, because when “Mysterium” kicks in, with an arabesque melody that nevertheless feels like the ancient Greek sway of previous tracks, the archaic quality returns like an ocean wave. The crash it produces evokes Stravinsky’s “old world” pieces, following paths that do not lead towards the expected, towards reasonable convention. They lead towards another kind of light, one that is found in the clear sharpness of atonality, complemented by electronic glitches that work almost like feedback, as if the signals sent by the instruments were being distorted. It may be no wonder that the track shares its name with a discovery once so strange it was deemed an enigma: in 1965, a scientific team received an emission from space, origin unknown, at a frequency of 1665 MHz. It was attributed to a yet-unknown form of interstellar matter, provisionally called mysterium. While the issue would turn out to be something less complex than first imagined, it is interesting that this irradiance from the stars could suggest, very classically, a music of the spheres. As the track ends, the instrumentation becomes sparse and echoing, the electronics glitching into beeps and crackles, the ritual connection modernized by the detection of an even older range of sounds, earth and sky linked by common ancestry in cycles and mystery, mired, in other words, in myth.
While The Soul is the Arena and Sanctuary, Diaz de Leon’s other Denovali releases, were great albums in their own right, it is my firm belief that Cycle and Reveal is the pinnacle of this particular set of three. It is as truly modernist and contemporary as it is classical, and as such I believe it will stand the test of time to one day become ancient in its own right. (David Murrieta Flores)