Sarah Davachi

Cantus, Descant

  • Sarah Davachi - Cantus, Descant
18th September 2020 / LP or CD / Late Music

Sarah Davachi

Cantus, Descant


+ Limited Indie Version 2LP is pressed on clear vinyl and housed in a gatefold sleeve.

The new double album from Drift Top 100 Albums of the Year artist Sarah Davachi is an 80 minute, 17 track double album meditation on impermanence and endings, framed by minimalistic organ études and careful harmonic layering, with two tracks featuring the artist’s own vocals for the first time. It will be released world-wide simultaneously on double gatefold vinyl or a 2CD set. 

This is the first release on the artist’s own label, Late Music, which has been set up with the partner labels division of Warp Records, who also work with Duophonic UHF Disks (Stereolab), Ndeya (Jon Hassell), All Saints Records (Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Laraaji) and more. 

Below is commentary from Davachi about the concepts, recording and instrumentation of the new album:

"The title of the record – 'Cantus, Descant' – has both literal and metaphorical meaning and, in a way, this is something like a concept album that addresses the relationship between the two.  In medieval music, the Latin ‘cantus’ was used as a general term for unadorned singing or chant and by the end of the Middle Ages it came to represent the highest voice of a polyphonic choral texture, often improvised.  ‘Descant’, at that time, was used in part to denote the structures of polyphony and counterpoint, the harmonious play of two or more voices against one another. 

Harmony is a musical device that is particularly meaningful to the material on this album, especially in the “Stations I-V” series and its use of a sixteenth-century meantone temperament, but the inherent dialogue that persists between the individual (the cantus) and the larger time and space that it occupies (the descant) came to inhabit a more significant presence in the ideas and feelings that inform the album as well.  In this way, the album takes solace in a suspension of the private within the collective, and the moment within the mythic.

I spent a lot of time while working on this album thinking about impermanence and endings, which led me to change my understanding of vanitas and memento mori.  These concepts arise allegorically across classical antiquity and Buddhist thought, among many other sources, but they were most obsessively expressed during the Renaissance in still lives and miniatures that contrasted the simultaneous passing and stillness of time. 

My interpretation is completely secular, softer, and more benign, but the awareness of a moment’s feeling remains.  There’s a lot of symbolist imagery in the work titles, references to place and nature; the “Stations” series in particular is a reconfiguring of the idea of states of being.  The pervading affect on the album is one that gives reverence to the suspension, the epoché, a space where we welcome and attempt to reconcile impermanence.  It is an opportunity to go inside – oneself, one’s sound – in order to simultaneously commune with our comforts and that which we mourn, perhaps not unlike the function of a hymn.

This album focuses on the organ in its various forms as the central instrument – pipe organ, reed organ, and electric organ.  There are four different pipe organs featured: a smaller one based on a design from 1479 that I recorded in Amsterdam, and three larger ones that I worked with in Chicago, Vancouver, and Copenhagen.  The majority of the album uses the organ in Amsterdam (in the “Stations I-V” series) as well as a large reed organ I’ve been composing with privately for a few years in Los Angeles. 

Most people are familiar with the overwhelming aspect of organs, their ability to fill a space and take the listener over, but I’m equally interested in the intimate and private nature of organs, which is also what I was sifting through here, especially with those two organs.  The organ in Amsterdam was particularly inspiring for me since it’s tuned in a Renaissance meantone temperament (which is unfortunately fairly uncommon in early music revivals) and since its bellows are pumped by hand, by another individual, rather than by an electric blower. 

The combination of the two yields what I think are some of the most interiorized and psychedelic textures I’ve ever experienced from an instrument. The minutiae of space and that sense of dialogue between near and far is I suppose another iteration of the cantus-descant metaphor that ended up being a more literal reference in the record.  I’ve long been interested in the Renaissance approach to texture and timbre, and ideas about suspension that you see in a lot of sacred music, so I went a bit further into that here.

 The first recordings I made for this record were actually back in the summer of 2017, which I gathered in Vancouver via an instrument I had had the privilege to work with on a regular basis since about 2013.  I knew at this time that I was just beginning to enter a period of intense exploration, so I spent 2018 figuring out how to articulate my voice within the organ, what I wanted to say with the instrument and the space around it. I had a lot of wonderful opportunities in live performance to do this, so most of my organ shows that year were various studies on a few different gestures, sometimes incorporating other instruments like horns, the voice, strings, or electronics. 

I began recording the rest of the album in earnest in February of 2019, and wrapped with the acoustic organ recordings in August of that year in Amsterdam.  The studio work came a bit later in the fall of 2019, at my home studio (“Alms Vert”) in Los Angeles.  My love of electric organ runs parallel to my love for orchestral textures and that style of production in popular music, and tape-based technologies like the Mellotron and echo devices.  There’s a lot of personal catharsis imbedded in this record, and the two songs that I ended up creating actually felt like a really nice foil to the instrumental structures that I’m better known for." - Sarah Davachi.

As a composer and performer of electroacoustic music, Sarah Davachi's work is concerned with the close intricacies of intimate aural space, utilizing extended durations and simple harmonic structures that emphasize subtle variations in texture, overtone complexity, psychoacoustic phenomena, and temperament and intonation. 

Similarly informed by minimalist tenets of the 1960s and 1970s, baroque leanings toward slow-moving chordal suspensions, and experimental production practices of the recording studio environment, in her sound is manifest an experience that lessens apprehension of consonance and dissonance in likeness of the familiar and the distant. 

Davachi has toured extensively across the globe and has shared the stage with artists such as Grouper, the London Contemporary Orchestra, William Basinski, Oren Ambarchi, Ariel Kalma, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Jessica Moss, ​Donald Buchla, Alessandro Cortini, Ian William Craig, Kara-lis Coverdale, Aaron Dilloway, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, Ellen Arkbro, Loren Connors and filmmaker Paul Clipson. 

Between 2007 and 2017, Davachi also had the unique opportunity to work for the National Music Centre in Canada as an interpreter and content developer of their collection of acoustic and electronic keyboard instruments.  She has held artist residencies at The Banff Centre for the Arts (Banff, Canada), STEIM (Amsterdam, Netherlands), WORM (Rotterdam, Netherlands), EMS (Stockholm, Sweden), OBORO (Montréal, Canada), MESS (Melbourne, Australia), and with the Bozzini Quartet (Montréal, Canada). 

Davachi is currently a doctoral candidate in musicology at UCLA – where she works on the aesthetic phenomenology of musical instruments and timbre in popular, experimental, and early music – and is based in Los Angeles, California.

+ LP formats includes download.

Disc 1
1. Stations II
2. The Pelican
3. Ruminant
4. Still Lives
5. Stations V
6. Midlands
7. Play The Ghost
8. Stations IV

Disc 2
1. Passing Bell
2. Hanging Gardens
3. Stations I
4. Gold Upon White
5. Oldgrowth
6. Stations III
7. Canyon Walls
8. Badlands
9. Diaphonia Basilica

Format /LP or CD
Released /18th September 2020
Catalogue / LMILP
Barcode / 5060384619088
Artist / Sarah Davachi
Label /Late Music
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