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An Interview With Dawn of Midi's Aakash Israni

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Dysnomia is a brain disorder, either of genetic origin or brought on by traumatic injury, that is characterized by the inability to recall the names of people and objects. Those who suffer from it are often frustrated by knowing what they're looking at but being unable to summon the name for it.

Dysnomia is also the name of the most recent album by the Brooklyn-based musical trio Dawn of Midi. Inasmuch as that title calls to mind a mentally taxing uncertainty, it is apt. Dawn of Midi's music is as familiar as it is impossible to pigeonhole. Depending on the listener's frame of reference, the album might evoke traditional music of Morocco, the minimalist experimentations of Steve Reich or the propulsive "motorik" rhythms of such German bands as Neu! and Can.

It might even be called jazz, which is the context that local music lovers will be asked to consider, should they attend Dawn of Midi's upcoming Burlington show. The band's instrumentation — upright bass, piano and percussion — is identical to that of many a jazz combo, though they play those instruments in some pretty unconventional ways. Pianist Amino Belyamani, for instance, will often play with one arm extended inside his instrument, where he plucks and damps its strings manually.

Dawn of Midi's music is genuinely unclassifiable. You just can't put a name to it. Nor is it easy to figure out how to respond to it. Dance? Nod one's head rhythmically? Gawk open-mouthed? The music's trancey groove invites listeners to lose themselves even as they feed their heads.

Currently on a world tour, where they're stunning critics and audiences alike with their energetic live shows, Dawn of Midi alights in Burlington on June 1 for a performance at the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival. Bassist Aakaash Israni took a break to answer, by email, some questions from Seven Days.

SEVEN DAYS: Where are you guys now? How's the tour going so far?

AAKAASH ISRANI: Just woke up in Jena, Germany. There is a bumblebee in my hotel room.

SD: Where have you found your biggest fans and admirers so far?

AI: We had a good crowd in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on the first night of the tour, and last night here in Jena, as well. I'm curious to see what the response will be like in the bigger cities like Berlin and London. We are a bit better known in places like that.

SD: What music are you currently listening to? Is there any music in particular that helps you cope with the rigors of an international tour?

AI: [Acclaimed Ghanaian percussionist] Alfred Ladzekpo.

SD: I don't think I'd call your music "jazz," yet you're playing several jazz festivals on this tour. Is jazz a comfortable "home genre" for you?

AI: Dysnomia is most at home performed in clubs alongside DJs, actually, with big subwoofers, but any stage will do, as long as it is loud and has enough low end. We have no home genre.

SD: Your press materials describe your show at one point as "a test of endurance," which seems odd to me. I dig your music. Why would it be something to "endure"?

AI: I believe the writer was referring to it as a test of endurance for the performers, not the listeners. People often remark on the fact that when we play, we start the album and play the whole thing until it's done, 47 minutes later. That can appear to require a lot of endurance, but actually we're hypnotized.

SD: "Playing electronic music with acoustic instruments" is the boilerplate description of what you do, but, personally, I don't hear it. What exactly is "electronic" about your music? What is it about electronic music that informs your sound?

AI: Most of the rhythmic concepts in Dysnomia are inspired by different African musics. On the other hand, the sound palette, the muted harmonics on piano and bass, the lack of cymbals on the drums — these were aesthetic choices that were probably influenced by our interest in electronic music growing up.

SD: Which of the following response(s) do you hope your music creates in listeners? 1) dancing, 2) a blissed-out trance state, 3) intellectual gratification, 4) hallucinations.

AI: All of the above, in that order.

SD: I can hear the prog-rock and "Krautrock" influences on your music: Neu!, Can, Guru Guru. Which other influences might not be as apparent, and how did you arrive at them?

AI: The Western references are much more often cited in the press, but actually the real compositional influence behind this album is West African (Ghanaian) and Moroccan (Berber and Gnawa) music.

SD: Your music grooves pretty hard. Why is the groove so important to you? What does the groove mean to you?

AI: To feel the pull of something invisible together is both what it means and why it is important.

SD: Is there anyone among the festival's artists you're particularly eager to hear and/or meet?

AI: Definitely want to party with Tony Bennett.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Groove Is in the Heart "

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