Research & Innovation

Mario Diaz de Leon Awarded HASS Faculty Seed Grant

With HASS Faculty Seed Grant, Diaz de Leon will amplify his tech-powered musical performances.

Mario Diaz de Leon, an assistant professor of music and technology, has been awarded a research grant through the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences' Faculty Seed Grants program. Diaz de Leon's "Heart Thread Performance System" will allow him to expand the range of creative real-time improvisation and synthesis tools available to musical artists.

“It's an exciting time, as I’m still at the beginning of a new phase in my work as a composer and performer,” said Diaz de Leon, a composer and performer who released the album "Heart Thread" last year. With this project, Diaz de Leon released electronic music under his own name for the first time and debuted a performance system he had been developing since 2019. “The HASS Faculty Seed Grant is allowing me to build on this work with a historic instrument that's wonderfully suited to my focus on live performance.”

“I extend my congratulations to Mario for being awarded a HASS Faculty Seed Grant,” said Kelland Thomas, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. “His contributions to electronic music epitomize the school’s dedication to fostering creativity and research.”

“The HASS Faculty Seed Grants program empowers faculty members to sharpen their research inquiries, paving the way for greater funding prospects,” continued Thomas. “I look forward to seeing this project advancing his artistry and showcasing the intersection of music and technology.”

“Performing my compositions with technology is like a prism,” said Diaz de Leon. “The pieces I write often have recognizable riffs and melodies, but it would be impossible for me to play them the same way twice.” His instruments generate musical variations, and all the while, Diaz de Leon improvises the way he shapes and guides the sound.

The instrument being sequenced with Diaz de Leon’s custom software is a modern version of the Buchla Music Easel, a performance synthesizer initially crafted in 1973 by Don Buchla, an influential figure in the fields of sound synthesis and electronic musical instrument design. Like its predecessor, the Easel Command offers a compact and user-friendly interface, ideal for performance and sound exploration.

Earlier this month, Diaz de Leon performed for the first time with the Buchla Easel Command at the Roulette Concert Hall in Brooklyn.

In his classes, Diaz de Leon teaches students how to collaborate with technology to create new music compositions. The music and technology program introduces students to sound synthesis, generative music, and related software and hardware instruments. Diaz de Leon trains students in advanced musical programs, such as Max, and shares the stories of musicians and communities that have brought electronic music to life over the decades.

These lessons acquaint students with an art form that Diaz de Leon cherishes. “Each performance becomes a dialogue between the form of the song that I’ve written and rehearsed, my moment-to-moment decision making, and the novelty created by the technology,” said Diaz de Leon. “It's music about connectedness, faith, and experiencing change, which for me is part of a spiritual practice.”