In 1968, Romanian composer György Ligeti produced “Continuum”, a harpsichord piece that, to this day, frays human sound perception. By most estimates, humans can only “digest”, or separate, 18 individual sounds at a time so Ligeti played the harpsichord at as close to that rate as he possibly could. “Continuum” is unhinged, a direct exploration of how the brain perceives perfection and how it can so often be wrong, exemplified in Ligeti’s polyrhythmic harpsichord performance. Ligeti’s fascination with polyrhythms was inspired, first by the piano music of piano music of Chopin and Schumann, but also by polyrhythmic and polyphonic dance music from Africa, specifically the Banda-Linda tribe from the Central African Republic. Taking influence from the latter’s dance forms, Ligeti’s work has formed an intriguing rubric from which to study contemporary electronic music, a rubric that places the producer in the role of perception orienter (or de-orienter). With much of modern dance music involving rhythmic elements from West Africa via the Caribbean (and vice versa), either directly or indirectly, the role of polyrhythms, broken beats and non-quantized percussion is readily apparent, but only a select few producers consciously meditate on the relationship between sound production and listener.
Recent efforts in this vein have been plentiful, from M.E.S.H.‘s dynamic “Scythians” to the percussive backflips of DJ Nigga Fox‘s O Meu Estilo EP. And many more have pressed on how conventional genre structure’s are perceived, from netting breakbeats into the fabric of four-on-the-floor techno or the ever-disintegrating percussion of Rabit‘s “Pandemic Transmissions”. For his part, Ziro has been consciously challenging perception in dance music and the inherent assumption of perfection within the form. Preferring un-quantized percussion and unconventional, often tonal drum work, the Bristol-based producer’s work nominally transitions between techno, funky, grime and dubstep, but it’s his consistent usage of the uncanny that begets experimentation. 2012’s “Coded” (out now on Crazylegs) is a club-ready techno roller in the vein of much of the dark, warehouse-focused material being released at the time, but its characteristic squelches and crashes, often slightly dissonant from the main groove, are what make its premise so curious.
Similarly, Ziro’s latest single, the Trim assisted “Lost”, falls into the grime category, but like Gage‘s “Telo” (also released on Crazylegs), creates dissonant spaces where an MC-led track might have once fallen into line. The “Club Mix” is full of the buckshot snares and roiling low end characteristic of contemporary grime, but also involves piercing rubber ball bass hits, organized in triplets, rim shots that lead into snare rolls and, at times, a suffocating blend of disparate percussion. The song, as its title states, is intended for the club and that disposition allows it to challenge the notion of what a “club” track should sound like. And while Ziro might not be challenging aural perception quite like the seminal Ligeti, his work and general consciousness is affecting a different audience.
Ziro’s mix work also exhibits his apposite approach to rhythm, drawing from the dreary acrobatics of Vince Staples, Arca‘s odd ball theatrics and Alex Coulton‘s pulse-heavy techno in his Astral Plane mix. Like “Lost”, much of the mix draws from grime, but as much as it highlights the likes of Visionist, ISLAND and Biome, it more often utilizes them as a foil for the next rhythmic exhortation. Most listeners of the following mix won’t be moved to investigate the intricacies of polyrhythms, but if it pushes an individual to reconsider how their mind’s intake differs from its perception, then Ziro will have done his job.