Just because an event is inconspicuous, it does not follow that what’s transpiring is inauspicious: a point handily illustrated by the performance that Sarah Davachi, a Canadian composer and electronic musician, presented in her New York debut at Trans-Pecos on February 28. A Tuesday-night bill shared with significant locals Loren Connors and Luciernaga (a.k.a. Joao M. Da Silva, also proprietor of the indie label Fabrica Records), the concert transpired with relatively little fanfare. Yet for the fortunate few dozen in attendance, the music lived up to Davachi’s sizable, well-earned reputation.
No small feat, given that she was traveling light. On the string of excellent recent albums that have announced her arrival as an artist of substance – Barons Court (Students of Decay; 2015), Qualities of Bodies Permanent (Constellation Tatsu; 2015); Dominions (JAZ Records; 2016), and Vergers (Important; 2016) – Davachi deployed a gearhead’s fantasy arsenal, including vintage synthesizers like the Buchla Music Easel and EMS Synthi 100 and arcane implements like the orchestron and mellotron. (No surprise, given that she’s held more than one stint as instrument-collection guide or curator.)
The resulting music contained echoes of Eliane Radigue, Pauline Oliveros, La Monte Young, Alvin Curran, and other important forebears in drone-based music and extended-duration harmonic studies, along with a fresh take on pacing, concision, and psychological impact. But on her newest album, All My Circles Run (Students of Decay; 2017), Davachi reduces her arsenal to basics; in compositions like “For Strings” and “For Piano,” what you read in the title is more or less what you hear, albeit altered in artful ways with subtle electronics. (You’re unlikely to hear anything more beautiful and haunting than “For Voice” soon.)
Likewise, in her Trans-Pecos set Davachi made more with less: a modest Arp Odyssey keyboard synth positioned unceremoniously on the stage, surrounded with a minor constellation of effects pedals. Rocking slowly back and forth on a two-note interval in the bass register, she introduced new tones gradually, increasing the complexity of her sonic web while altering the volume, intensity, and duration of its constituent components to highlight varying aspects.
Awash in a gently churning matrix of lush harmony and piquant micro-intervals, a given sound source or musical motif might swell to the fore briefly, recede into the background or vanish near completely, and then surface anew in an altered, refreshed context. The performance lasted barely 30 minutes, a satisfying offering that nonetheless left a listener hungry for more.
Loren Connors, an urban-blues abstract expressionist like no other, opened with a characteristic set of spidery improvisations. Seated in a folding chair at the center of the venue’s floor, he plucked spindly lines and smoky clusters from an electric guitar barely amplified: strings rattling audibly, sound emanating from several feet overhead. Like the most recent volumes of Connors’s ongoing series The Departing of a Dream, his set here could suggest the aural equivalent of afterimages at play across your retina after you’ve stared too long at a light.
In the support slot, Luciernaga neatly bridged the chasm from Connors’s ambling soliloquies to Davachi’s minimalist stasis. His slow-building, steady-burning guitar improvisations occupied a raga-like state of grace between his colleagues’ disparate paths, in the process giving the entire evening a sense of organic cohesion it might have lacked otherwise.