In addition to the musical objects she creates, Sarah Davachi is also immersed in the theoretical issues that surround her practice. This twin engagement began in her youth in Canada, studying philosophy and music, and working at a specialized musical instrument museum. Her compositional ambitions led to the doorstep of Mills College, fertile with history. Accompanied by a thesis for pipe organ and electronics, she also wrote a tangential document that ties experimentalism and phenomenology and the concept of the “irreal.” A few years passed as Davachi continued to research and write with an extensive content development project for the museum in Canada. Since 2017, she has been working toward her PhD in musicology at UCLA, with a dissertation on critical organology (the study of musical instruments) and texture in early music, popular music, and experimental music.
Papers positions historical and technological conclusions to face their philosophical underpinnings. Illuminating the mysteries of temperament and character in harmony, placing medievalism into the present, giving a narrative of studio recording as world making, and musing on her revered theories about art. Two of the essays dissect sympathetic compositions: Natura Morta by Walter Marchetti and In A Large, Open Space by James Tenney. Fingerprints bordering pathos. The book concludes with six artifact studies: an Italian virginal, a Bösendorfer piano, the Novachord, the Mellotron, the modern harp, and the OSCar synthesizer. Comprehensive details of their development, mechanisms, and cultural significance are laid to bare.
I walked downstairs a few weeks ago and Sarah was tuning her harpsichord with a hammer given to us by our friend James Rushford, who had accidentally bought the wrong type a few years back. I sat on the chair beside her; she was setting the instrument to a quarter-comma meantone temperament (from roughly the late 1400s). With only a laymen’s understanding of tuning, Sarah demonstrated for me an explanation so simple and beautiful that it made me smile continually. The unique identity of each triad, in this early form, became tangible that afternoon. I could hear how one interval sounded apart from the same in another key. The book elucidates similar experiences. When I read Papers, I admire Sarah’s ability to frame the tableau of history with an elegant open end.
Sean McCann, April 2020