MIDI is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, a technical standard for digitally playing, editing and recording music. If you think about MIDI as a musical annotation for the digital age, then it is not difficult to imagine MIDI sheet music that is so full of notes that only a computer is fast enough to play them all. Picture the mechanical pianos of the past with their punch-hole rolls for notes in a digital scenario and you get the idea.
Black MIDI takes that picture at least one step further, as it is the concept of sheet music so full of notes that is not only beyond human playability, but also beyond the capacity of computers. Sheet music like that would be so full of notes that to the human eye it would look completely black, hence the name. And given that there are black MIDI compositions using the maximum number of notes possible in the MIDI standard, around 93 trillion, I am sure any printer would in fact print that just as a black sheet anyway…
The band Black Midi are a young London quartet taking inspiration from such incredibly dense and unplayable music, and as a result the sound they make is cacophonous, manic and frequently quite hard on your ears.
Now if you think that sounds like a description of a Cardiacs record more that anything else, you might be quite right, because if I would be forced to use only a single word to describe the music on this quartet’s amazing debut album ‘Schlagenheim’ it would in fact be pronk, the term invented to describe the musical style combining punk and progressive rock invented by the Cardiacs.
But while pronk is indeed a good starting point, the Black Midi are certainly not copycats. Although they do reach firmly into King Crimson territory both when it comes to fragility and brutal power, hardcore punk when it comes to sheer speed and abandon and the Talking Heads when it comes to postmodern frustration, they stretch beyond that. More particularly, black midi add a sense of post truth disillusion that feels very much 2019 – such as for example when singer Georgie Greep, with a true sense of envy repeats the comment “what a magnificent purpose” over and over again on debut single ‘BMBMBM’ as if someone seeing any kind of meaning is beyond his imagination in the age of fake news.
As is often the case for me, I find it hard review of music that really surprises me, and certainly that is true for this record. I am totally transfixed by this record, to be quite honest, and just can’t stop playing it.
So for now, I will limit myself to saying that the sound on ‘Schlagenheim’ is incredibly fresh and invigorating. And while it is impossible anymore to say that something sounds like nothing else, this comes as close as you are likely to get at least inside of the rock music idiom, while still managing to deliver beautiful melodies and poetic moments.
It is as if by filling the sheet with so many notes that it becomes totally black, has in fact made it blank. The page that is truly full has enabled these young musicians to start with new musical ideas, from scratch again.
A truly unique album that you need to hear.