Dawn of Midi doesn't sound like a piano trio. The group's second album, Dysnomia, starts with a simple, weirdly syncopated bass line. A piano enters, playing a single clipped chord over and over, suggesting a sampler. A kick drum sneaks in another rhythmic theme. New patterns emerge and recede, all in the service of rhythms and breakbeats, not unlike an Aphex Twin record. This is jazz fully suffused with, and even overrun by, beats.
The trio—Amino Belyamani on piano, Aakaash Israni on bass, and Qasim Naqvi on drums—can make conventional jazz. Its first album is a great example of contemporary free jazz that occasionally points toward something more. These days, though, the solos, the riffs, and the extended melodies yield to repeated fragments and lockstep grooves. And while this music conjures a sequencer's beats and a synth's consistent attack, it has a decidedly human, expressive core that indicates a different kind of jazz future. (THURSDAY, 8 P.M., CAROLINA THEATRE) —Dan Ruccia
"Fusion" and "diffuse" describe Tory Lanez's hit, "Say It," which sounds like down-tempo house fighting through nineties R&B and modern trap mutations. Those terms also apply to most of the moment's compelling beat-oriented pop, which places the Toronto-based street-pop crooner Lanez on the curve of what's hot.
Still, while you will hear echoes of Drake, Future, Miguel, and Travis Scott, Lanez has an ear for the strange and formless, too. A gnarly, warped dubstep buzz anchors "Stuck on You," while, as a guest on Freddie Gibbs's "Mexico," Lanez's scrambled voice journeys through a rickety piano-trap loop. His recent mixtapes, The New Toronto and Chixtape 3, build a lengthy example of how R&B can be ambient; you hear a singer comfortable handing his songs over to mood. Lanez's appearance at Moogfest might be a headscratcher for the experimental purist, but his music is an example of how crafted R&B can rub shoulders with the avant-garde. (FRIDAY, 11:45 P.M., MOTORCO) —Brandon Soderberg
Morton Subotnick is known best for a pair of late-sixties albums made on Buchla synthesizers: Silver Apples of the Moon and The Wild Bull. Unlike many academic composers of the era, Subotnick wasn't afraid of regular beats and patterns. He's made a lot of incredible music since—see the caustic buzz of Sidewinder or the gentle gestures of Until Spring—though any conversation about him always returns to Silver Apples. At age eighty-three, Subotnick is still a force in avant-garde electronic music, still teasing out interesting sounds from his Buchla synths and writing inventive music for humans and electronics alike.
But perhaps his most fascinating current venture centers on instruments for children, including an iPad app where children can essentially paint sounds, allowing them to "play at being a composer." He envisions it as something like building blocks, noting that "building blocks don't make skyscrapers, but you get the sense of building things." His lone Moogfest performance is part of a tribute to Don Buchla, but the goal remains the same: to inspire others to hear (and make) new sounds. (FRIDAY, 3:45 P.M., DURHAM ARTS COUNCIL PSI THEATRE) —Dan Ruccia
"Every melody declares to us that the past can be there without being remembered, the future without being foreknown," wrote the neurologist Oliver Sacks in Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. Neuroscience student and electronic composer Floating Points, or Sam Shepherd, shines in that momentary lag. From his club-ready house homage "ARP3" to the more astral affectations of "Thin Air," Floating Points embodies the melody's center. It's how last year's Elaenia, despite all its intellectual flexing, prospered among releases that only imagined the genre to be as deep as each producer's module. FloPo's band-assisted groove sessions arch into jazz-beat soliloquies that work the line between the esoteric and the melodic. In the past, on his Vacuum Boogie EP, Shepherd casually fashioned experimental club glide and near-D'Angelo funk. Now, look for an extended piece like Elaenia's "Silhouettes (I, II, III)" to honor and defy expectations of Moogfest's sounds with a fusion of the familiar and alien. He's 4hero with a conductor, Jazzanova on a relaxant. (THURSDAY, 8:30 P.M., MOTORCO PARK) —Eric Tullis
Last year, her full Planet Mu debut, Dark Energy, delivered an indescribable array of arrhythmia and spoken-word creepiness. She eschewed soul samples, opening instead a sizable kit of fascinating sounds, which cut from canned haunted house screams to Chinese horns. As footwork moves further outward, she's an especially exciting practitioner. (FRIDAY, MIDNIGHT, THE ARMORY) —David Ford Smith
So just how massive is the sound of Sunn O)))?
Moogfest originally slated the drone-metal titans for the Carolina Theatre, but the band's armada of amplifiers—for which they are both named and known—prompted worries that they would actually start to shake the ceiling loose in the nearly century-old space. Instead, Sunn O))) will play in the parking lot of Motorco, a rare stateside outdoor appearance for the perennial festival favorites.
But Sunn O)))'s volume is only the essential spectacle of what they do, their emphatic and ecstatic method for making a series of important points. By slowing heavy metal's riffs to a glacial pace, Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson give themselves space to improvise and explore those themes, to add subtle textures and touches that practitioners of their ancestral form often leave untouched. Enhanced live by filigrees of synthesizers and horns and fronted by Mayhem's Attila Csihar, a supreme costumed leader, Sunn O))) presses simultaneously at the crooked boundaries of metal and noise, jazz and classical. They prompt questions about the purpose of genre, and then play loud enough to drown out those who ask. (SATURDAY, 9:15 P.M., MOTORCO PARK) —Grayson Haver Currin
Via App's strange and sometimes-gorgeous collage-based music lives up to this pointed rhetoric, even as it uses several dusty elements itself. Many of the songs on the jarring Dangerous Game employ four-on-the-floor beats and spacey pads plucked from classic techno. But she subverts these standard pleasures with a barrage of unexpected bits, creating a distinct house variant. Like matter exploding from an infinitely dense sphere, jagged chunks of sound appear and evolve before you can process them. It works on two essential levels: You can dance to it, or you can (attempt to) analyze it. (SATURDAY, 11 P.M., THE PINHOOK) —David Ford Smith
James Hinton lives and works in an anonymous Brooklyn building. Despite an Ivy League education, he has largely spent his post-academia years making melodically left-field electronic music as The Range. Attuned to the sonic possibilities of a generation that shares itself online, Hinton draws liberally from the YouTube uploads of underage grime spitters, Ariana Grande fans, and hopeful amateurs performing for webcams and smartphones.
Exemplified by his recent Potential, the empathetic end result of Hinton's talent search feels like an evolutionary step beyond the sampling tradition. Whether taking sixteen bars wholesale or distilling a vocal down to an almost unrecognizable snippet, he's actively exploring the humanity and intimacy inherent, yet not always visible, amid the hashtags.
Often wondrous in its ability to evoke grand sentiments and subtle emotions, Hinton's music captivates largely because of that methodology, one that hinges on his own desire to connect with others. (THURSDAY, 7 P.M., MOTORCO) —Gary Suarez
The drummer Greg Fox is barely thirty, but he's already amassed a mountain of music. Though known best for the breathing blast beats he plays with black metal firebrands Liturgy, Fox has explored freedom and freak-outs in Guardian Alien, unhinged rock in PC Worship, bracing abrasion with Ben Frost, and long-form drumming duels with Oneida's Kid Millions. He's been the mentee of free jazz paragon Milford Graves, turning his thoughts on biometrics into oddly seductive music, and even joined baritone saxophonist Colin Stetson for a recent interpretation of Grecki's third symphony.
Fox brings these experiences—as well as his time learning to play drum 'n' bass music and his ostensible interest in meditation—to bear in his solo music, which rewrites the expectations of a solo drum performance. Linking his kit with electronics, Fox creates a teeming sphere of sound, where that heavy metal insistence and devotion to mantra-like repetition battles in real time with an impulse to rip it up and start again. You want to step into Fox's world and learn how he interprets all the things he's heard. (THURSDAY, 2 P.M., 21C HOTEL MAIN BALLROOM) —Grayson Haver Currin