Sarah Davachi builds temples out of tone. Throughout the past decade, the prolific Canadian minimalist composer has used repetition, silence, and duration to create secular drone music imbued with feelings of religious reverence. Antiphonals’ soft instrumental palette of Mellotron, synthesizer, organs, piano, and harpsichord offers a restrained counterpart to Davachi’s previous release, the towering 80-minute Cantus, Descant, recorded on ancient church organs during her international travels. Yet no matter what tools are at her disposal, every project treats music as a space to become comfortably suspended inside. “I just like to be cocooned by sound,” Davachi has said.
After studying piano into her late teenage years, Davachi developed an approach to composition that continues to shape the mournful medieval drones of Antiphonals. Her earliest works created new pieces out of abstracted elements of Frédéric Chopin’s music, isolating what she called “the most lachrymose harmonies or chord progressions.” During her studies at Oakland’s Mills College several years later, Davachi discovered the music of minimalist godfather La Monte Young, whose 90-minute piece The Second Dream of the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer opened her to the possibilities of sound that demands total immersion. Traces of Young’s influence can still be heard in Antiphonals’ most patient passages, such as “Magdalena” or “Border of Mind.” Yet compared to the blaring intensity of The Second Dream’s eight muted trumpets, Davachi’s Mellotron French horn and oboe are positively soothing.
Throughout Antiphonals, Davachi smooths out recognizable elements until they blur into the sonic landscape. Compared to the orchestral ensemble recordings of earlier albums like 2018’s Gave in Rest, these eight songs sound subdued and solitary. However, there are moments when individual instruments receive a moment in the spotlight. “Chorus Scene” uses harpsichord tuned to meantone temperament to suggest time traveling to a 16th century concert hall. The sparse piano of “Abeyant” could initially be mistaken for what Erik Satie described as “furniture music,” but it eventually evaporates from a solid form into a shimmering vapor. “Gradual of Image” begins with beautiful nylon-string guitar sounds from the Mellotron, then introduces a haunting melody reminiscent of “Chant for Your Dragon King” by Syrinx, a fellow Canadian group who conjured musical fantasias with a regal grace.
While every one of Davachi’s albums is constructed from different instrumental building blocks, she considers Antiphonals to be a spiritual sequel to 2018’s Let Night Come on Bells End the Day. Both releases were recorded primarily on Mellotron and electric organ, and both display a meditative approach that contrasts with some of her more majestic compositions. There is nothing like Cantus, Descant’s “Play the Ghost,” a song inspired by Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan”; fans will have to keep waiting to hear the full album in that style she has teased in interviews. For now, Davachi welcomes listeners into her quiet fortress of solitude, where they can cast aside the stresses of a chaotic world and worship at the altar of pure vibration.
Buy: Rough Trade
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