Sarah Davachi Traverses Heaven and Earth on 'Cantus, Descant'

BY Sam BoerPublished Sep 15, 2020

While Sarah Davachi has always tapped into the divine, her latest album is her most ambitious offering yet. Rife with diverse textures and patient, deliberate movement, Cantus, Descant is an eclectic sonic meditation that balances the weight of human emotion and the weightlessness of space.

Since releasing her full-length debut Barons Court in 2015, the Calgary-born composer has experimented with minimalist composition, medieval choral music, and electroacoustic drones, coming to craft a distinct hybrid of these forms. While she liberally employs all varieties of instruments, from analog synthesizers to violins, the organ is Davachi's go-to, and she makes ample use of it on Cantus, Descant. This double album (the first on her new label, Late Music) centres around all varieties of organ — pipe, reed and electric — with other instruments, most notably piano and strings, sailing in.

Appropriately enough, given Davachi's penchant for early music and her background in philosophy (she holds a B.A. from University of Calgary), this album could be interpreted through the ponderings of the 6th century musical philosopher, Boethius. He believed there were three essential types of music in existence, two of which were musica universalis, the holy music of the planets, and musica instrumentalis, the comparatively inconsequential sounds made by singers and instruments. The sprawling Cantus, Descant oscillates between these two worlds, balancing celestial, atmospheric tracks such as "Hanging Gardens" and "Gold Upon White" with vulnerable, intimate songs like "Canyon Walls." 

This play between the human and divine is especially evident when Davachi's frail voice drifts onto the record. This is a new area for Davachi, who has never before sung on her recorded work. The fact that her voice only appears for two songs on this 17-track, 81-minute collection emphasizes its littleness; it's refreshing and surprising when the record is brought back to Earth, and highlights its beauty when it takes off into soundscape.

Cantus, Descant is accessible without ever feeling thoughtless, plays to Davachi's sonic strengths, and provides just enough experimentation and variety to justify its daunting running time. It's a journey worth taking.
(Late Music)

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