“The closest thing we have to a hybrid of Éliane Radigue and Terry Riley,” according to The Stranger, is the music of the Canadian electroacoustic composer and performer Sarah Davachi. She builds the sounds of organs, archaic tape-based samplers, analog synthesizers, disembodied voices, and orchestral detritus into architectural drone music, drawing huge effects from small fluctuations in vast, drafty, eerily empty aural spaces.
After earning a master’s degree in electronic music from Mills College and spending a decade caring for the Canadian National Music Centre’s collection of keyboard instruments, Davachi rose in renown as a collaborator or tour mate with the likes of Grouper, William Basinski, and Suzanne Ciani—and as an auteur whose albums are at once uncompromisingly severe and surprisingly enticing, a style that Resident Advisor called “experimental ambient music that almost anyone could enjoy.”
Davachi recorded her 2020 double LP, Cantus, Descant, on several electronic, pipe, and reed organs across the country, adding piano, voice, synths, and strings to utterly enveloping effect. Citing its “slow chord changes and arcane tonalities,” Pitchfork compared its “sinewy pieces, carved from just a few components,” to Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings: dark-hued surfaces that divulge wonders of texture, tonality, and time through the alchemy of duration and attention.
Though Davachi’s keyboard playing and electroacoustic performance are deeply intertwined, a pair of programs at Big Ears brings a unique chance to examine them individually. On her first Big Ears concert program, Davachi gives a solo pipe organ concert incorporating pieces from Cantus, Descant with new works; on her a second concert program at the festival, she constructs a longform electroacoustic piece of the type heard on engrossing minimalist epics such as Figures in Open Air.