An extended modular performance from the Erased Tapes artist and Dawn of Midi co-founder.
Pakistani-American musician Qasim Naqvi is perhaps best known as a founding member of acoustic trio Dawn of Midi, in which he has played drums since 2007. Outside of his work in Dawn of Midi, Naqvi is an accomplished solo artist whose compositions have been performed by ensembles including the London Contemporary Orchestra and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and soundtracked many films and documentaries.
Naqvi’s recent solo releases, such as 2019’s Teenages and 2020’s Beta, have made extensive use of synthesizers and modular systems. In this episode of Patch Notes, we invited Naqvi to perform at Pioneer Works, a non-profit cultural center in Redhook, Brooklyn.
“The building dates back to 1866 and was originally a railroad track factory,” Naqvi says. “Now it’s a massive performing arts space. With my equipment, I was merging two systems that I’ve been configuring for a couple of years, a Verbos System and a Serge System. I also used a few random modules to connect everything: a Quad VCA from Intellijel and an X-Pan stereo module from Make Noise as the final output.”
“The acoustics are massive at Pioneer Works and we set everything up where the audience usually stands, so I was facing the house system,” he explains. “It was quite powerful to feel the music coming directly at me from this monstrous system. It definitely affected my choices. I wanted to embrace the full dynamic feel of the space, by exploring a range of highly dense sounds to rhythmic ideas, to more sparse and quiet moments. It was also a hellishly hot day and there was no AC in the building. At a certain point it felt like a clay oven.”
The piece Naqvi performs is called ‘Yes Mammal’, and was originally titled ‘Music for Modular Synthesizer, Dim Lamp and One Developing Melody.’ “I wrote it in June for my first show in New York after a year and a half of not performing,” he explains. “It’s evolved since then and I wanted to share it with Fact.”
“My background for a long time has been in acoustic music, where I write pieces and then share them with a group or individual to interpret. And from there they’ve made it into something larger. With the modular, I’ve been translating that way of thinking. Lately, I write a piece or a sketch and give it to an entity, in this case the synthesizer, and let it expand the music to more than just notes on the page. This piece is loosely written and I improvise with the material using the infinite possibilities of the modular synthesizer to give it shape in the moment. I like to think of it as live orchestration but with voltage.”
Naqvi has typically used this large-scale modular setup in the past to perform, but more recently he’s been experimenting with slimmed down systems to use in live performance settings. “I’m making different and smaller hybrid configurations that are more tailor-made to the pieces I’m writing,” he says. “I still use this whole system when needed but it’s been an interesting exercise to slim down from time to time and make more with less.”
Naqvi’s most recent release is an EP titled Chronology, which was released on on Erased Tapes. “It was made entirely on a very old and broken Minimoog synthesizer. It’s a special album that I made with a great relic.”
Naqvi’s performance was edited for the video. You can listen to the full length take below, as well as an alternate take.
Filmed and Recorded live at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY
Video by Gabe Rubin, Wolfgang Daniel & Zack Shorrosh
Live Audio & Recording by Riley Stevens
Lighting by Matthew Mann
Production by Justin Frye
Watch next: Patch Notes: Mabe Fratti