Sarah Davachi: Barons Court
Students of Decay

Born in Calgary and currently residing in Vancouver, Sarah Davachi is that rare thing: a Canadian electroacoustic composer whose work and sensibility are informed by an undergraduate degree in philosophy and a master's in electronic music and recording media, the latter from Mills College in Oakland, California. Her music, similar in many ways to that produced by Eliane Radigue, Phill Niblock, and Pauline Oliveros, is distinguished by a number of factors. First of all, a large part of its focus is on extended durations, gradual textural transformations, and simple harmonic structures. Secondly, the soundworld by which such aspects are realized is often acoustic in nature, with the sounds produced by organs, strings, and woodwinds often modified via processing.

While there is a strong acoustic presence in her music, Davachi isn't some purist who rejects electronic and synthesized sounds. On her debut full-length Barons Court, a number of vintage synthesizers appear, including Buchla's 200 and Music Easel, an EMS Synthi, and Sequential Circuit's Prophet 5. Still, as is astutely noted in the press release, her approach is “more in line with the long-form textural minimalism of Eliane Radigue than it is with the hyper-dense modular pyrotechnics of the majority of her synthesist contemporaries.” Specifically, the forty-four-minute release features five tracks, with three of them rooted in acoustic instrumentation and featuring cello, flute, harmonium, oboe, and viola played by Davachi and others.

In keeping with that concept, “Heliotrope” opens the album with a strings-based drone that gradually expands into a somewhat raw and almost keening mass rich in overtones. The longest piece at thirteen minutes, “Guildford” conjures an air of pastoral mystery in the woodland noises that can be heard warbling faintly alongside its core element, a thick, pulsating drone. That pastoral quality surfaces during “Wood Green,” too, though more nebulously when the synthesizer elements assume such a gauzy, cloud-like form. Pacing and layering are central to Davachi's work in that the measured pace allows the music's rich range of sonorities and overtones to resonate clearly. Regardless of whether the emphasis in a given piece is acoustic or otherwise, the sense of control she demonstrates in the way her pieces patiently unfold is one of the most impressive things about it.

February 2015