For years, Istanbul-born, L.A.–based Deniz Cuylan has worked as a writer, dialogue editor, sound designer, Foley artist, and composer for film and television. The scores, including one about drug kingpin El Chapo and another about a woman being hunted by her family, pack plenty of jittery high drama—and set an unlikely stage for his 2021 debut album, No Such Thing as Free Will, a collection of evocative, atmospheric pastorals that painted pictures of Japanese hot springs and the “Purple Plains of Utopia.”
Two years later, he’s back with even more brightly colored abstractions. The soundscapes on Rings of Juniper are increasingly complex, their palettes more varied, their themes more ambitious. The title track starts with a cascade of notes from Cuylan’s 2011 Thomas Norwood Santos nylon-string guitar, clear and resonant as a harp, with the quiet hum of orchestral strings rising in the background before fading into silence. That’s when the sequence starts all over again, and each time it does, the guitar grows more out of sync with Greg Chudzik’s bass, blurring in the twists of clarinet and piano, and gaining power until it resolves itself into a quiet, temporary repose.
Each of Juniper’s eight compositions is just as good, and the whole thing smacks of Steve Reich, whose Pulse/Quartet (2018) is one of Chudzik’s recorded highlights and whose influence helps these pieces leap beyond No Such Thing. With mixing by Seth Manchester and mastering by Heba Kadry, Cuylan’s guitar takes its place at the center of this richly imagined, dynamic universe, playing with the warmth of a chamber quartet one moment and the monumentality of a full orchestra the next. Astonishing!