Qasim Naqvi’s Beta is made of works that are like puzzle pieces to snap together or tangled necklaces to pull apart. It comprises a series of short pieces composed with modular synthesizers, flipping the lid on the detailed process and world of possibility in synth-based music making. Naqvi highlights crisp counterpoint, using snippets of simplistic melodies to provide insight into the artistic processes that have gone into his other works for the instrument, particularly 2019’s Teenages. Beta is a polished, yet demo-like, record that brings together a pleasant sampling of delicate, interlocking tunes.
Naqvi, known for his work with experimental trio Dawn of Midi, highlights his expertise in rhythm on every track of Beta. A percussionist, his knack for precisely interwoven melody represents the heart of his musical output on this record, and links each of the otherwise varying pieces together. “Roll Program,” the opening track of the album, sets the stage for this type of texture with its buoyant, pulsating style. Volume ebbs and flows throughout the repeating themes, deriving a constant forward-looking energy that Naqvi never breaks.
From the get-go, hints of the vibrant, textural style of Dawn of Midi peek out. Naqvi isn’t shying away from his past work in undertaking this new venture into the world of modular synth. The first track’s upbeat and textural exploration flows easily into “Matic,” whose light syncopations and futuristic twinkles yield a playful touch, and into “Ctaphone,” whose wondrous quality is reminiscent of Buchla synth extraordinaire Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. Through each of these quick but comprehensive pieces, Naqvi makes clear his ability to balance intricacy with simplicity. At first glance, the most prominent aspects of his music are the straightforward melodies he’s set out — scalar, with a hint of whimsy. But upon a deeper listen, the hidden-in-plain-sight underlayers of the music illuminate, revealing polyrhythms, soft drones, and funky distortions.
Beta is meant to be a precursor to Teenages, a way of giving context to Naqvi’s practice, and although it reflects the attitude of an experimental recording session, its clean production and fully-formed melodies give it the air of a completed work in it of itself. The only track that lacks cohesion is “Onna et Pulse,” which disjointedly brings together a hodgepodge of hymnal melodies and abstracted sounds. Outside of this half-baked piece, Naqvi’s overwhelmingly glossy product is a graceful exploration.
The B-side boasts an immersive live performance of “Teenages,” from a performance at the Southbank Centre in February 2019. The choice to include this recording as Beta’s culmination feels full-circle: we saw the experimentations that led to the final product, and now we’re experiencing the result. And the result proves fruitful, as the piece blends dark drones and a fluttering pulse that transform into exultant chord progressions, meandering between themes with ease. “Teenages” exhibits the quality that Naqvi proves over and over again on Beta: the power of this music lies in its subtlety.