Sergio Diaz De Rojas
Subtempo Guest Mix 030
Sergio Díaz De Rojas is a Peruvian pianist and composer currently based in Valencia, Spain. His works have reached over ten million plays on streaming services and have been carefully crafted on limited cassette and vinyl editions. He has released one album, three EPs, various stand-alone singles, and has been invited to participate on diverse initiatives such as Piano Layers by 7K!, Recollections I, II and III by Sonder House, and Project XII by Deutsche Grammophon.
Alongside his work as a musician and performer, Sergio runs the artist collective, music platform, and record label piano and coffee co.
Hi Sergio. First of all, thank you for doing this mix for us.
Thank you for the invite!
I wanted to start by asking you about the mix. How, where, and when did you record it?
I recorded it at home using Ableton Live 10 in between the holiday weeks I spent with my partner. I honestly thought it wouldn’t be a good idea, that I wouldn’t focus properly, but it turned out nicely. I even included works that she recommended me and that I ended up loving.
Is there a theme for this mix?
It is a varied collection of works I have been enjoying recently, characterized by this very specific kind of rawness and warmth that I look for in music. I also included a new piece I will be releasing on May.
You’ve been very busy recently, based on your output. You released a number of singles and EP’s. What are some of your personal highlights?
I formed part of Deutsche Grammophon’s Project XII, which was a pretty wonderful musical experience, from the recording session in Barcelona to unpacking and listening to the beautiful vinyl at home. It is still kind of crazy to see my name next to that famous yellow logo. I am very happy, too, with how Postcards turned out. It was a double single released on a limited 7” vinyl edition in collaboration with Sonder House, featuring artwork by graphic designer Ryan Carl, and accompanied by two gorgeous music videos shot on Super8 by my friends Tiago Almança and Laura Vidal-Abarca. I really enjoyed how multidisciplinary and collaborative this project was.In Sergio's studio and label, there's both room for acoustic & electronic alike. Founded in 2015, the blog turned label has produced and highlighted works by some amazing musicians in the contemporary classical sphere.
And all of this while in school full time in the Riba-roja de Túria Conservatory of Music, in Spain. How is that going?
It is going well! Classes are wonderful and my teachers are quite supportive. I couldn’t ask for more.
What stage of the studies are you at? How much longer until you are done?
I am finishing the fourth year, which means I got two more years until graduation.
How do you feel that studying in the conservatory has affected your music?
One of the advantages of currently attending the conservatory is that I am thinking music all the time. Whether I am solving harmony exercises, singing in a choir, performing music with a chamber ensemble or simply doing some historical research, I am constantly exercising my ears and incorporating the resources I enjoy the most into my work.
How’s the Valencia music scene? Are you finding other like-minded people in the area?
Despite being the kind of person who spends most of their time at home, I was pretty excited to discover the musical side of Valencia but then the pandemic started and well, you know the rest. However, when I first moved here, I would sometimes hang out with my friend Eve Matin, an extraordinary harpist that was pursuing a Master’s Degree at Berklee Valencia at that time, which allowed me to discover a little bit of what was being done there. Later on, I met this magical being called Lo-fang, with whom I developed a quite lovely friendship. I seriously can’t recommend his music enough. And more recently, I have been following closely what Edu Comelles is doing, from his sound installations to the streaming and other initiatives by his platform Audiotalaia.
But you are originally from Lima, Peru, correct? Has that influenced your musical explorations in any way?
As Facundo Cabral says: no soy de aquí, ni soy de allá. While I do appreciate the diverse cultural heritage in my country, I never learned how nor felt the need to embrace it as my own, at least not as part of my artistic explorations.
You also run piano and coffee, a blog and label. Tell me a bit about how that project started.
We created PnC to help artists around the world develop projects that push boundaries and create conversation. I t is important for us to enrich and broaden the creative communities that we are part of, and to make them fairer and more supportive environments for everyone.Sergio's recent 'Postcards' EP came out as a 7" on Sonder House.
You first started it as a blog but then evolved it into a label as well, right? What prompted that?
We actually started producing music videos, short film, and musical projects. The blog was born to keep the platform active and to spread the word about who we were and what we did. Despite involving all types of artistic disciplines, the neo/contemporary/modern classical music community became a relevant audience and, naturally, we started growing into that direction. Two years later, because of the exciting curatorial possibilities, we felt that founding a boutique record label would be the ideal next step to keep supporting the artists we adore.
Is there an ethos behind the releases? What makes a piano and coffee record?
I haven’t really thought about it but I guess it is something that only time can tell. Maybe some years from now I will look back and the answer will be right there.
The name is so evocative as well. What’s the origin story of the name?
That is actually a pretty simple story. Back in 2015, when I was in between writing my debut album and structuring the first ideas for PnC, I would spend most of my days playing the piano with only a couple of pauses for eating lunch and drinking coffee, so that’s it, haha. I am not really the most creative person when it comes to naming things. It is like when I composed a waltz and named it… Waltz.
You recently went through a re-brand, which I really love by the way. What was the intent behind this change in aesthetic?
Thank you, Rocco! It means a lot coming from you. It is basically our first step in developing our visual identity. We couldn’t take care of it before, at least not professionally, since we didn’t have a graphic designer in our team but now that we count with the wonderful Celia Fernández González, running PnC is way easier and more entertaining.A beatiful photography created recently for the announcement of Sergio's performance at Q3AmbientFest happening yearly in Germany (remote in 2021), curated by CEEYS.
And you do events as well. How’s that changed during the pandemic?
We didn’t organize any online events during the first year of pandemic since I didn’t have the mental energy to handle the logistics. I was simply trying to survive. Just recently we have started to co-produce some online events such as Piano Day 2021 (Potsdam) and Q3Ambientfest.
What role do you think a blog and label play in today’s musical landscape?
We are two of the many bridges between musicians and listeners and I think it is our duty to be unconditionally fair in our curatorial processes, and in the deals we offer our artists so they can truly own their works and have real chances of living off their art. It is sad and infuriating to see how biased and abusive most record labels and other music platforms are, even the smallest ones.
PnC is part of a growing number of labels whose focus revolves around modern classical music. Erased Tapes, Moderna, 7K!… It seems there’s a growing desire for this kind of music. Any thoughts on why this may be?
I think there are various factors such as the growing destigmatisation (if that’s a word) of classical/academic music, and the natural inclination to innovate, which has always been present throughout history (Beethoven, Debussy, Morton Feldman, Nils Frahm…) but that nowadays is merging so smoothly with other genres such as electronic, ambient, and pop music. However, this has been going around for at least two decades so I guess that, right now, the biggest influences are Spotify and its mood-based playlists. Millions of listeners are discovering the neo/contemporary/modern classical music world when they search for all those massive playlists for studying, relaxing, and sleeping, which is naturally making a lot of artists and labels decide to release this type of music. Not always in the most professional way though, but that’s a whole other topic that includes ghost/fake artists on Spotify, so many new ambient and modern classical sub-labels, and again the unfair curatorial process I was telling you about.
That’s why I think it is important to make a clear separation between labels like the ones you mention, pioneers in their fields, that have been releasing for so many years now the most wonderful records, breaking boundaries, and staying honest to what they believe in (with more or less success, but still), and those new labels and musicians that just try to be part of what is going on, to only make it to the big Spotify playlists, and that release an endless amount of repetitive, boring music that says nothing and means nothing. I am probably nobody to make this kind of statement but I can definitely tell that something is wrong.Sergio holding one of his favorite pieces of gear. Synths and acoustic instruments meld in his output.
Your music is extremely delicate and paused, it takes me far when I listen to it. It’s very well captured in the recordings. Is that something important for you in the recording process?
Definitely. My music is quite minimalist so it is crucial for me to capture even the most subtle detail of expression. It is all about the spaces between each note.
What kind of techniques do you employ to get it to sound how you want? Do you record at your home studio?
When I want that kind of muted, lo-fi sound so common in most of my compositions, I record at home. I got an upright piano in my bedroom without any sort of acoustic treatment and very poor production skills but it seems to be enough sometimes. For recording, I have a couple of Russian Oktava condenser microphones (A/B Stereo), a Zoom H6N (for ambience), a RME Fireface UCX interface, and a laptop with Ableton Live 10.
When I want something different, more complex, or with better quality, I record in an actual studio, as I did with Postcards and Mundo Flotante.
What are your thoughts on collaboration? Do you prefer working alone or with other creatives?
I love collaborating! Partially because I am not so good at many things and always need help to conceive my ideas, but mostly because it opens up so many new possibilities plus it is one of the most rewarding experiences in the artistic world. What’s your favorite piano, or setting where to play it?
I adore old upright pianos that have been played a lot, that have travelled from one country to the other… Pianos that have lived, you know? There is this special character in the touch and sound, it is like having a conversation with an old, wise person. But more generally, I enjoy warm, soft, opaque pianos.
And lastly, what is the best way for people to discover your music or your label’s output?
Thanks for this mix and for doing this interview with us!
Thank you for such a lovely experience!
Sergio Diaz de Rojas 'Postcards' is his latest record, and is out now on Sonder House. Support them by getting it here.
- Erland Cooper – Creels in Stromness (feat. Shards) [Phases]
- Hundreds – Untold - Pure Currents [Embassy of Music]
- Martyna Basta – Lost My Way and It Was Pleasant
- M. & Winterdagen – Dalgebed
- Jacob David - Lillian [Moderna Records]
- Emily A. Sprague – Horizon [RVNG]
- Burial, Four Tet, Thom Yorke – Her Revolution [XL Recordings]
- Ryuichi Sakamoto – solari [Kab America]
- Ella van der Woude – Bye Bye Little House [Snowstar Records]
- Caterina Barbieri – Fantas for Two Organs (feat. Kali Malone) [Editions Mego]
- Sergio Díaz De Rojas – The Moon Song [Sonder House]
- Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, the London Symphony Orchestra – Movement 6 [Luaka Bop]
- Sibylle Baier – Tonight [Orange Twin Records]
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