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Dawn Of MIDI
Dysnomia Tristan Bath , July 21st, 2015 09:18

Logically, the history of modern electronic music sees full electric bands mutate via 70s disco into scaled down producers behind synths, and later on decks, stripping proceedings down to the core most elements of rhythm and repetitive hooks. Later, we reach the militant minimalism, bare boned techno, and increasing intellectual complexity of 21st century techno. That brick wall of bookishness, plus a slowly fading sense of physical tangibility and that connection between recorded music and the physical world (for both listeners and music makers) perhaps explains those bands incorporating lessons from synthetic music. This is the third trio of instrumentalists replicating rhythmic electronic music I've written about recently, the other two being Tokyo's Nissenenmondai and Vienna's Elektro Guzzi. As they're slightly less aimed directly at the dancefloor though - in particular their tendency to stretch and skew rhythm makes them at times infuriatingly undanceable - New York's Dawn Of MIDI stick right out. Dysnomia sounds like those early Warp releases, or even those early Ornette Coleman albums. They're making use of pre-existing musical building blocks, but reconfiguring the blueprints.

This album first came out back in 2013, but a recent reissue by Erased Tapes, along with support slots with German pianist, Nils Frahm on his recent tour in the US and Europe, have exponentially grown Dawn Of MIDI's audience. And rightly so. The band are setup like a classic jazz piano trio, featuring Qasim Naqvi on drums, Aakaash Israni on contrabass, and Amino Belyamani on piano (they come from Pakistan, India and Morocco respectively, but first met in San Diego, California), and began life freely improvising in self imposed darkness. That's literal darkness by the way, as in playing with all the lights turned off. They recorded an excellent improvised session for WFMU back in 2010 (with all the lights turned off) which you can hear below.

It's contemplative, spacious, gentle and quiet, but the missing ingredient from this early form of the group was the key ingredient of propulsive rhythm, and it's rhythm that makes the genius drama of Dysnomia shine so brightly. Press releases and other reviews have likened the trio's approach on Dysnomia to the downtown NYC minimalist movement (i.e. Reich, Glass and other composers we're all a bit sick of hearing about), which isn't entirely incorrect. Though not credited as a composer on Dysnomia, drummer Qasim Naqvi is the driving force behind many of its key moments, slotting himself into rhythms that no normal human could in any way have found, grounding the trio through Dysnomia's many mind melting shifts and phases akin to the chaotic precision of Reich's Drumming or Piano Phase. The fourth movement of Dysnomia, 'Nix', has Naqvi furiously tapping his way through dozens of momentary time lapses in less than four minutes, and all without the comfort of any cymbal washes to glue the gaps together (his kit doesn't even appear to have a crash or ride). The band are constantly skimming the edges of a black hole, and time slows down or speeds up according to the perspective, stretching and squeezing rhythms like chewing gum.

Dysnomia plays through as one blinding, complex, 47-minute suite, beginning and ending with the insistent tapping bassist Aakaash Israni and pianist, Amino Belyamani. In addition to a showering of soft, slow piano chords, Belyamani spends most of the album banging his piano to mallet prepared piano strings. At Dawn of MIDI's recent support slot at the Roundhouse in London, Belyamani's fingers seemed to hurriedly fiddle around directly inside the body of his piano at almost every moment throughout the piece. Naqvi's drums and Israni's bass strings are treated similarly recklessly, twisted and scraped in all manner of odd ways (hear Naqvi audibly swiping the surface of his snare at the end of ‘Moon') but the percussive tapping of Belyamani's piano strings practically defines the album, putting the piano to use like never before.

As previously mentioned, the nine tracks that make up Dysnomia are really one long suite. Opening diptych 'Io' and ‘Sinope' spend the first thirteen minutes building upon a single deathly serious piano chord and bass ostinato, evolving into an uneasy groove that totally disintegrates on the awkward shape shifting sections of 'Atlas' and 'Nix'. As a listener, hanging on their every note is almost draining, as Dawn of MIDI settle into grooves merely momentarily so many times, and at every turn seem to slow down, speed up, or generally realign the elements into new and unexpected shapes. It's part Steve Reich, part Ben UFO, but the pay off for close listening is at times greater than either. 'Ymir' is perhaps the best example, providing something resembling a proper boogie from plucked piano strings and the high end snap of a stick falling on the body of a drum, all coming as welcome reward after a meandering trip through the many dozen rhythms of 'Moon'. 'Ijiraq' is similarly trying - like a bad DJ muddying the mixing between tracks - but ultimately slots into furious patterns of 'Algol' and eventually the closing title track returns to the musical themes at the head of the album.

'Dysnomia' itself is a physical condition of the temporal lobe; a language dysfunction where the sufferer has problems recalling names for people and objects - itself named after the greek demon of lawlessness. It's for the most part, an apt title for Dawn Of MIDI's third album. Unafraid of discord, they break so many rules for rhythmic music here. They slow down and speed up, they knowingly stumble and break out of time, they play themes for a little too long or a little too short period of time - but the compositional precision and sheer intent is incredible, and makes the entire thing work. It's a colossal achievement in terms of performance (I can confirm that the trio somehow play the entire unwieldy thing flawlessly live too), and the quality of the recording itself is absolute perfection, portraying every nook and cranny of the three acoustic instruments with total intimate sonic truth. In a year that got off to a clunky start in terms of albums, the reissue of Dysnomia really should be seen as something of a milestone. Not for decades has a reminder of acoustic music's ability to imagine new and unseen worlds been so faithfully put to tape. This album's one we'll be decoding for a while.