Boomkat Product Review:
Epic new collection from Sarah Davachi, intended as a companion to her AOTY contender "Two Sisters". A heady suite of long-form material recorded using organ, strings and electronics, it's deep listening experimentation at its absolute best.
'Two Sisters' was a timely reminder of everything Sarah Davachi does best, a study of instrumentation and duration that ignored the strict hierarchy of the past to gaze into the future, reframing tired associations. "In Concert & In Residence" extends that vision past its outermost fringes; where "Two Sisters" was measured and easier to digest, this collection pushes Davachi's durational instinct to another level, teasing out all the subtleties from her composition and instrumentation to vast depths. There's no better example of that than on the 36-minute opening track 'In the Grand Luxe Hall', a recording of a commission by Western Front New Music that features Davachi and Richard Smith on dual EMS Synthi AKS synths and Marina Hasselberg on cello. If "Two Sisters" excelled in highlighting the mutability of acoustic and electronic instruments and their inherent similarities (when treated cautiously), the piece magnifies that concept in minute detail. It's hard to accurately pull the sounds apart from each other mentally; Davachi and Smith both use the Synthi to generate sine tones that waver gently but purposefully against the expected fluttering tone of the cello. With half an hour of concentration required to let the music seep in completely, it's a demanding listen but one that repays in kind, offering a level of detail that's all too rare in contemporary drone.
'Stile Vuoto' was recorded last year at Québec's Chapelle du Séminaire and commissioned by Organ Reframed. Here, Davachi reconfigures sounds often cloistered in sacred spaces, playing slow organ drones (performed by Jocelyn Lafond) against E27 Musiques Nouvelles' reduced strings. Rubbing against its predecessor's hybrid of synthetic and acoustic sources, the piece highlights the similarities and differences between the pipe organ and the sine tone generator. Anyone who grew up hearing church music will no doubt struggle to unhook the pipe organ from its cultural weight, and Davachi works to envelop the expectation with the same soft power she exudes on "Two Sisters". The strings' fluid tonality contrasts the pipe organ's comparative solidity, and it's within this difference where the magic appears, harnessing energy from folk, church and baroque music. Recorded in Spring this year at Berlin's Emmaus Kirche, 'Harmonies in Grey' strips down Davachi's sound to organ alone, and it's here where her interest in tuning and timbre is really put into sharp focus. At almost 24-minutes, it's a piece of music that allows us the opportunity to bathe in not just the instrument's unique tonal qualities but the reverberation of the sacred space itself, detecting how the building responds to Davachi's minuscule changes in resonance and pitch.
The most ambitious suite on the album is 'Lower Visions', a four-part epic recorded last year at Calgary's National Music Centre using Hammond Novachord, Hammond B3, Gerrit Klop chamber organ and EML Electrocomp 101 synthesizer, and E-Mu modular. By capturing each instrument in the same space and performing a similarly developing composition each time, Davachi makes it easier than ever to hear the instrument's unique flavor and tonality. It's as if she's pulls apart the elements that made "Two Sisters" such an invigorating listening experience and isolates them completely, allowing us to visualize each strand separately and completely. Over the course of an hour, she encourages us to listen to sounds we're familiar with, but not completely accustomed to.
Solo organ piece 'Harmonies in Green', recorded this year at Vancouver's Pacific Spirit United Church, finishes off the lengthy set, driving the purity of 'Harmonies in Grey' into cloudy, reverberating bliss, and playing on the organ's scraping, metallic resonance in the second half. Throughout, Davachi attempts to coax us into considering pure sound outside of cultural trappings. It isn't some new age posturing or pretentious medieval aestheticism, it's an attempt to package philosophy into music that can be absorbed by anyone with the inclination, and it's one that positions Davachi at the very apex of her craft.