MCF Preview: Dawn of Midi is sensuous, immediate and visceral

Dawn of Midi w/ Tyondai Braxton

Englert Theatre — Wed., Apr. 6 at 6 p.m.

Dawn of Midi plays Mission Creek Apr. 6
Dawn of Midi plays the Englert Theatre on Wed., Apr. 6 as part of the Mission Creek Festival.

Dawn of Midi are an acoustic trio that features Qasim Naqvi on drums, Aakaash Israni on bass and Amino Belyamani on Piano. Their record Dysnomia has slowly built its reputation and sales since it was released almost three years ago, in no small part because they’ve toured the world performing it in its entirety.

Dysnomia as a musical expression defies neat categorization. They look like a jazz piano trio, but the harmonic complexity and emphasis on solos is absent. They’ve been compared to what The Quietus calls “Reich, Glass and other composers we’re all a bit sick of hearing about,” but their music is not notated and replicable outside their own performances.

You can look to the culture of their parents — Naqvi is Pakistani, Israni is Indian, Belyamani is Moroccan — but Dysnomia is only tangentially connected to the music of those countries. They met while studying at the California Institute of the Arts, so they are to some extent classically trained, but like former Iowa City band Euforquestra, they’ve managed to achieve escape velocity, leaving behind the constraints of academia.

Pitchfork calls Dawn of Midi’s music “something totally unprecedented,” but in fact it is richly precedented, most closely by the Moroccan Gnawa music, though it would never be mistaken for it. From Gnawa they took the idea of trance-inducing rhythms, and the base 12/8 time signature which — as Gnawa does — mutates into 3/4 , 6/8 and 9/8. The resonant, ringing bass sound echos that of the 3-string guembri. Dysnomia is informed by Gnawa’s trance inducing flow, but it’s has the spirit of western experimental music. It’s possible to hear echoes in Dysnomia of the disco experiments of Arthur Russell, and the percussion-centric minimalism of New York’s Liquid Liquid.

Their first album, First, consists of free improvisation, and took form during endless jam/practice sessions, some conducted in complete darkness. Dysnomia took form in the same way, with completely different results. The band records their practice sessions, and Dysnomia was constructed from the most compelling fragments culled from those recordings. The band then arranged and expanded the fragments and learned to play it as a single continuous piece of music.

Leaving all the intellectual connection-drawing aside, Dysnomia is above all sensuous, immediate and visceral, full of forward motion and restless variation within the repetition. Jazz Pianist Keith Jarrett said, in an interview with Ted Rosenthal in Piano and Keyboard magazine, “Music is motion — sonic motion. It doesn’t have to be a big motion, it actually doesn’t have to even be motion if the tone itself is full enough of things like overtones.” That perfectly describes Belyamani’s approach to the piano, which he plays often with one hand inside the body of the piano manipulating the strings as he plays.

And unlike electronic music, like minimal techno, Dawn of Midi is an intensely human expression of what at first sounds like robotic repetition. A musician playing an acoustic instrument might aspire to metronomic precision in repeating simple musical phrases, but humans are not robots. Beyond the inevitable human variations, there’s the way musical intention informs the repetition, and the interplay of each player listening to and following the other. Even if Dawn of Midi plays the same notes every night, they’re creating the moment — reacting to their audience, the sound in the room and each other.

Dawn of Midi’s relentless practice and performance means that every performance will be different. Their music is like Heraclitus’ river, never the same twice, holding a form but continuously swirling and agitating within it. They may not be unprecedented, but they are unique.

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