Music for Music: Sergio Díaz de Rojas
Sergio Díaz de Rojas: What Really Matters
by Dan Ursini ©2023
There is no question that Muerte en una tarde de verano, which roughly translates as “Death on a summer afternoon,” is thoroughly provocative. Yet, it is subtle and discreet, achieving its ends through nuance and implication. This exceptional album is the first full-length release in seven years by composer/pianist Sergio Díaz De Rojas, originally from Peru and now based in Spain. It is presented as a “visual album,” and that is exactly right. It reframes the conventional connections between imagery and music. And it profoundly affirms the transcendent power of love in connecting us with our daily lives and with the larger reality beyond.
Each of its eleven original compositions is accompanied by a video. Taken together, they address a question that pulls the entire project together: If Sergio were to die tomorrow, what kind of life would he leave behind? His gently audacious reply does not deal with the details of death. The very idea alone instills sorrow and gravity in considering the events of a final day. Besides, the notion of choosing how it is spent is hypothetical—on the order of a thought-experiment. As Sergio remarks, “There’s no way to know when, no way to know how—it just happens on the day. It’s a very good reason to pay attention to what really matters.” The songs on Muerte en una tarde de verano, largely instrumental, evoke what really matters to him: the moments of loving and luminous connection which flash by during an ordinary day.
A good example is this YouTube track: “El gato escondido entre las plantas” (The cat hidden among the plants):
The video shows a cat bobbing across a summer patio lined with potted plants. The music enacts the bright elfin energy within this creature as he tucks himself behind the pots. A real connection between the cat and the composer is captured. After the cat sneaks away, there is a dead pause, followed by a fading keyboard phrase layered under heavy echo. It perfectly conveys the diminishing traces of that connection. This is charming and sad, at once.
A similar two-part structure frames “Amanecer,” the album’s first track.
Sergio auditioned professional actors to play a role based on himself. The individual chosen for the part was actress Miriam Serrano because, as Sergio says,” she perfectly portrayed the sensibility and melancholy we were searching for.” At the earliest moment of the day, she stands on a seafront balcony and takes in the dawn. A drifting piano melody evokes the slow deep privacy of the moment. Then there is a break, followed by a return to this scene a couple hours later. The calm moment has dissolved, and the music disintegrates into ricochets.
At this point, anxiety enters the album’s tone—and stays there. All of the songs are about the many loving attachments in Sergio’s life. They animate the lyricism in his precise melodies, couched by ambients like keyboard clacking that suggest tight proximity. Yet, those elements are countered by heavy reverb echo. The final result is an album of enigmatic and soulful compositions which deliver a deep ambiguous power.
A good example is “Maracuyá / Barranco”
The gentle melody conveys enigmatic dreaminess. The video shows Serrano at the shore, snacking on a passion fruit. Here and throughout the album she displays a heartfelt attachment to the subject of each song as she fully aligns with the spirit of the music: going for a mountain drive under a brilliant open sky; making collections of flowers; composing at the piano:
“Canción para Otto y Elsa” (Song for Otto and Elsa)
In each video, the actress’s silent and graceful presence is totally absorbed in what she is doing. She is alone in most of the videos, and when she is not, she never speaks with anyone. Her face is the only one we see.
The sole video where she interacts with someone is the album’s centerpiece, “Holding her is where I learned forgiveness.”
Shot in black and white, it shows the actress now representing Seraphina, Sergio’s lover and the individual to whom the album is dedicated; and an actor as Sergio. There is a discreet tender physicality. Of all the attachments recognized in this album, this is the most profound. Its music resulted from a jam Sergio had with Lo-Fang, an American multi-instrumentalist and vocalist. Lo-Fang provides an affecting cello solo. He also wrote the lyrics for this song, and his hushed vocal expresses a feverish blend of love, gratitude, and need.
At the opening of the final track, the actress walks alone along the beach at sunset. She impulsively tosses a rock into the waves. Moments later, still wearing street clothes, she wades into the water, stumbling at first then correcting. She begins to swim, momentarily disappears under the water, then comes back up. As the video ends, she has resumed swimming. The slow and sad music carries a suggestion of death.
“Atardecer a orillas del mar” (Sunset by the sea)
On the basis of the music alone, I highly recommend this album. But I also endorse it for its refreshing courage and imagination in showing the listener how image and sound, sequence and narrative, can advance the role of love in what matters most to us.
By the way, here are the album credits:
Music composed, performed and recorded by Sergio Díaz De Rojas
Lyrics, voice and violoncello by Lo-Fang
Field recordings by Jakob Lindhagen
Mastered by Gonzalo Lasheras
Director: Tiago Almança
DoP and Editor: Tiago Almança
Art Director: Miriam Serrano
Starring: Miriam Serrano
Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983). His play, Sandbar Flatland, directed by John Malkovich, was produced in 1978 during the dawn of the legendary Off-Loop Theater scene in Chicago. In 1990 Chicago Magazine selected it as one of the ten best shows of the preceding 25 years. Beyond this, Ursini worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine; he wrote performance art pieces presented at such Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication. In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, has had two staged readings in Chicago. Dan can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org