Deep listening from a master of drone.
Have a look at Sarah Davachi's events page. It's a dense, globe-trotting itinerary more befitting of a superstar DJ than a drone artist. But it says a lot about the Canadian artist's wide appeal: once you see one of her performances, whether it's on violin, synth, horns or other instruments, you'll never forget it. Davachi has a way with slow, gradually unfurling melodies. This is ambient music that demands your attention, and rewards it too.
Davachi is fresh off the release of two albums this year—Let Night Come On Bells End The Day, a minimalist effort that focuses on Mellotron and electronic organ, and the stunning Gave In Rest, which expands her repertoire with vocals, piano and strings for one of her most diverse records yet. RA.648, made up mostly of music Davachi uses to relax and escape from her hectic schedule (she's also working on a PhD in musicology in Los Angeles, where she's currently based), reveals her to be a keen student of this kind of vibe. The mix features all sorts of music: vocal recordings from Japan, Arthur Russell obscurities, deep melancholy from Grouper and the haunting noir of Circuit Des Yeux—anything that fills the room like fog and creates an unmistakable mood, much like the music of Davachi herself.
What have you been up to recently?
A lot. I've been working on a lot of new stuff, both recording and for live contexts. I've been touring a fair bit over the past few months and I've had a lot of nice opportunities to do some special larger-scale pieces. I recently was on tour in Europe and wrote two new ensemble pieces—one for electronics, pipe organ and string trio, which was performed in London at Union Chapel as part of Organ Reframed, and the other for electronics and string trio, which was performed in Newcastle at Sage Gateshead as part of Tusk Festival. Back in September I played a really cool show as part of Red Bull Music Festival in Montreal that was for pipe organ, voice, cello and French horn and we got to perform it in a beautiful church. I'm always thinking ahead so I'm also starting to plan out some new projects for the future, including a great commission that will happen in the UK next spring. I'm also doing my PhD at the moment in musicology at UCLA and I'm just starting to sort out my dissertation project for that, so that is also keeping me very busy.
How and where was the mix recorded?
I did the mix myself at home using Logic, which is how I do all mixes, including those for my NTS radio show. The pieces that appear on it are things that I've been listening to a lot lately either while at home or in transit, so compiling that just happened over time.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
The mix is more or less just a reflection of where my head is at right now, definitely a mix of different styles and eras of music, which is always how I function. I wanted it to be more on the mellow side because as things get busier in life, as they usually do around this time of year, I find myself listening to this kind of music out of necessity. Compositionally, this is also all music that I'm interested in from a theoretical and production perspective, so it's stuff that I'm feeling but also thinking.
You often make a point of seeking out special new places to record. What does the sound of a room add to your music, and why is it important to you? And what is the most impressive-sounding room you've ever recorded in?
I think I do this more in terms of performance than recording, actually. It would be great to be able to record in a lot of different rooms, but that doesn't always get to be the case because of logistical reasons, so usually my recording either happens at home, in my studio, or in a proper recording studio, which I've been doing a fair bit of over the past couple years. For performance, the room can make or break the sound. It's important acoustically, insofar as certain types of rooms will just sound better with the type of music that I make because of the way they're structured and the types of things that they reinforce or reject. But also the vibe of the room is really important—clubs and bars tend not to set the type of focused listening experience that I'm looking for, so I try to avoid them as much as possible. In terms of recording, I really enjoy working in studios and all of the ones that I've worked in lately—Hotel2Tango in Montreal and Fantasy Studios in Berkeley—have their own charm and character, which lends itself to the recording, I think. One of my favourite places to perform is the Chapel Performance Space in Seattle. It has incredible acoustics and just a really inviting feel. Everything sounds amazing in there.
Much of your work revolves around the use of one or two instruments a time. Is there an instrument, or type of instrument, that you've yet to use that you've always wanted to?
Yes, brass instruments. I never really had much of an interest in them earlier on because I didn't really know much about them, but I've started to become interested in the sound possibilities there. Over the summer I did a performance at the Getty Museum here in Los Angeles for electronics and a brass trio, two trombones and a French horn, and I was hooked on the power of their sound. For the performance I did in Montreal recently I decided to include French horn because I have a friend there who is an amazing experimental player, and it turned out that the sound of the instrument paired extremely well with the pipe organ that I was playing, so that's a combination that I'd like to explore more in a live setting where the two timbres can really intertwine.
Other than that, I'm working on new material for somewhat unusual instruments. I have a friend who is a professional carillonist—a carillon is an instrument that comprises the enormous bells of a church tower or some similar structure—and she's commissioned me to write a new piece for her so I'm thinking a lot about that. I also have a harpsichord at home that I'm not doing much with currently so I plan to write something for that. I also have a lot of electronic instruments lying around that I'd like to dive a lot deeper into, including the Korg PS-3100 polyphonic synthesizer that I recently purchased.
How do you incorporate electronics into your music?
I actually make use of electronics quite a bit, especially live. With the exception of All My Circles Run, the synthesizer and other sort of "classic" electronic keyboard instruments such as Hammond organs and Mellotrons are really staple sounds on every record. I started out with my first three records being almost entirely electronic with just bits of acoustic elements that were spectrally mutual (strings, organs, flutes) being incorporated to bolster the sound. I don't think it's flipped the other way around, I just think it's more balanced now. I write a lot more for acoustic instrumentation in a particular and deliberate way now and I do a lot more to explore the way that those instruments can articulate different ideas on their own. But even in acoustic cases, mostly everything I do is electroacoustic, meaning that the acoustic sources have (most of the time) undergone some kind of effect or processing or alteration to remove them from their normal state of being. When I perform live with acoustic players or when I do pipe organ concerts and things like that, the acoustic sound is usually always dry and then if there are electronics they are just added alongside as another instrument. I'd like to think about doing more live processing of acoustic sources perhaps.
What are you up to next?
Just always working on new stuff, new records, new live projects, a few collaborations including a duo record with Ariel Kalma. I'm always touring—later this year I'm playing a couple shows in New York and Chicago and then at the end of November I'm playing a cool show at a temple in Kyoto. I have a lot of touring plans in place for next year, too, which is exciting.