IF THE GLOWING press is to be trusted, Dawn of Midi is "something completely different," according to NPR. The New York City trio "sounds like nothing else," says the Guardian. Their music is "totally unprecedented," per Pitchfork; the way it's put together is "seemingly impossible," according to Rolling Stone.
While it's true that Dawn of Midi's combination of sound and style lies somewhere between unique and uncharted, bassist Aakaash Israni traces these effusive reactions to the natural cognitive dissonance that happens when one hears Dawn of Midi's hyper-rhythmic, minimalist grooves and sees them being made by instruments traditionally tied to jazz. The sound is something like organic, pulsating electronic music, built not with programmed beats and synths but by Israni and his mates, pianist Amino Belyamani and drummer Qasim Naqvi.
"There's definitely a sonic palette that's coming somewhat from an interest in electronic music... but the other, more primary influence—a lot of these rhythmic ideas—comes from our fascination with African music," Israni says. "A lot of that 'unclassifiable' stuff, those rhythms do strange things in the brain... and so people have this feeling when they hear it and they think [it's] so foreign. It grooves, but they don't understand how.
"People come up to us after shows all the time and say, 'Oh, when this happens or that happens.' And it's not at all what we're doing," he continues with a chuckle. "But you know, that's part of the fun. Everyone gets to hear it in their own way."
After debuting with an improvised avant-garde jazz album called First in 2010 (and abandoning an initial attempt at a follow-up during the mastering process), Dawn of Midi released its second album, Dysnomia, in 2013. It is one 46-minute-long work organized into nine tracks, and it's a jaw-dropping piece of musical craftsmanship that took Israni, Belyamani, and Naqvi more than a year to compose, perfect, and record. Every note is precisely placed, and the three instruments' parts interlock and evolve slowly; the effect is like watching footage of the guts of a clock at work on a melting, distorting filmstrip.
Israni has a more relatable description: "It's like a conversation, but instead of everyone speaking in complete sentences, each person is just saying the right word at the right moment and then together a sentence is formed."
To achieve the aesthetic they wanted on Dysnomia, the trio modified their instruments and their playing style. Belyamani muted his piano strings, Naqvi ditched his cymbals, and Israni heavily employed the harmonic tones of his bass. As a result, the album is taut and tense, almost muffled, and hypnotically rhythmic.
"We're a percussion trio, but we just happen to be playing [other instruments]," Israni says. "We're all drummers, essentially."
After touring behind their free-jazz debut, the band's shift to a more propulsive sound brought with it a hint of optimism for potential interest in Dysnomia, Israni says.
"Rhythm is a really incredible thing in the sense that very avant-garde things become all of a sudden really accessible when they're rhythmic. I think we thought it would do well, mostly because it was made up of ideas that we found really exciting, so we thought other people probably will too. What was surprising was how quickly it was well-received. I thought maybe at some point the record would be noticed, like, years later as something kinda cool.