Boomkat Product Review:
A stunning four disc epic, 'Long Gradus: Arrangements' reveals the sheer depth of her process by presenting work in four separate arrangements: strings, woodwinds, brass & organ and choir & electronics. Glacially slow to encourage the deepest possible listening, it's an immersive, psychoacoustic delight.
We're always impressed by Davachi's music, and somehow she keeps finding a way to one-up herself, taking a studied process and well-developed concepts to new places each time. A "gradus" is a kind of manual that was used in classical education to help students write in Greek or Latin verse; Davachi considers 'Long Gradus' a way to help listeners familiarise themselves with her techniques, teaching active listening by immersing us in sound, not just theory.
Davachi started work on the album back in 2020 when she was invited to participate in Quatuor Bozzini's ensemble's Composer's Kitchen residency; for obvious reasons, the session was delayed for a year, but this gave Davachi the time to to consider the piece more rigorously. So while it was written for string quartet, it developed into a four part exploration of horizontal shifts and chordal suspension that could be mapped to any four instruments capable of producing a seventh harmonic. "Substitution of the string quartet with other instruments as desired or imagined, both acoustic and electronic, is entirely acceptable and indeed encouraged," the accompanying press release reads.
On the 'strings' version, Davachi's process is at its most pure, with each player's sustained tones gently rubbing against each other, illustrating the gradual changes in pitch and texture. Her relatively open structure allows each musician a certain level of freedom, letting each performance shift as seamlessly as the tones themselves. Although this recorded version is fixed in time, its instinctively paced movements are so hypnotic that it can feel slightly different each time you listen. You should know just how much we love woodwind over here if you've noticed our appreciation of Mary Jane Leach and Laura Cannell, and Davachi's version for flute, bass flute, clarinet and bass clarinet is almost predictably celestial, performed by Rebecca Lane and Samara Dunscombe in Berlin. The music takes on a completely different character when performed on such different instruments - with strings, it's easier to bend, hold and manipulate the notes; using woodwind, the shifts seem more convulsive somehow, and the tones are all the more magical for it. Hearing both performers' breaths is an additional texture that lends flavor and encourages a very different level of attention.
Davachi plays Berlin's Emmaus Kirche's pipe organ on the 'brass & organ' version, alongside Rage Thormbones, aka Weston Olencki on tenor trombone and Mattie Barbier on alto. We're not sure if it's just because we've been so accustomed to hearing just intonation drone music performed on pipe organ, but the tonality here seems much more stark, with the organ picking out the wavering fluctuations and almost vibrating against the brass. But our favorite iteration has to be the final one, 'choir & electronics', with Sarah Davachi playing sine wave oscillators and mezzo-soprano Judith Berkson handling the vocals. This version harks back to some of Davachi's most affecting recordings (such as last year's divine 'Two Sisters'), and marinates in its own restraint. Davachi's gentle processing is particularly notable; the vocals sound almost like they're being rendered from a dream or a hazy memory, brushed and sculpted so they drape over the pure sine tones like silk.
Clocking in at four and a half hours, 'Long Gradus: Arrangements' isn't for the faint-hearted, but anyone who's fascinated by tone, pitch and patience will be rewarded for their time. Whether you're interested in Éliane Radigue, La Monte Young, Kali Malone or Ellen Arkbro, this is a crucial, poetic handbook that grows with each moment.