Ahead of the release of Curved Form (No. 11), I spoke to Sarah Davachi about the ideas and inspirations behind her remix.
First up, I’d love to hear how you approached creating the track. It feels really deconstructed and pared back compared to the original but obviously shares a lot of the same DNA. Did you treat it like an original composition or were you guided by the existing piece?
'Deconstructed' was definitely a sentiment I had in mind while I was working on this. The original piece moves to several different places throughout, and I wanted to strip it down even further just to focus on one layer that I heard emerging from time to time. I wanted to retain a connection to the original piece and keep the sound recognisable as a derivative of the original, so in that sense I was guided by the existing work, but on a larger narrative scale from beginning to end, I think I was listening more for how the segments that I used wanted to develop and then let them go into that direction.
A big inspiration for me is the work of sculptor Barbara Hepworth and I find a lot of my music echoes the organic, flowing contours of her work. With your remix, it feels to me like you’ve almost composed the negative spaces of those works – the moments in between the sculptures and the holes that pierce them. Were there any images or ideas guiding your work on the track and, if so, how did they help you along the way?
Negative space is also a concept/feeling that I've been focusing on quite a bit in my own work, so I'm glad to hear that it's something you sensed in the remix track. I don't tend to think of images or any visual associations when I'm working on music, but I sometimes approach sound with the notion of erasure, which I suppose is essentially the same thing as composing with negative space, as you said. Often when I hear music that sounds very full and lush, there is something in my ear that wants to hear and understand what is beneath it, what the sort of root component is that's moving the feeling in the piece. This is especially the case when I'm working on remixes of other people's work. Of course, once you begin that process of removal, the experience becomes about something much more and different than what is simply essential.
I really enjoy how in a lot of your music time is given to very small details – changes in tuning, changes in timbre. In your remix, I rediscovered a whole world of richness in the single cello notes that you used. I’ve gotten used to hearing the piece as a big ocean of sound as opposed to these pinpoints and it really highlighted how much is actually going on in each moment. What do you hope the effect of this careful attention to detail is on the listener?
Thank you! That is something I really take a lot of care to do in my music, and I appreciate you saying that. It's difficult for me to talk about that kind of reception in music, mostly because I don't like or want to impose anything on the listener. I have my own ideas about why I do what I do and why I desire to hear things in the ways that I frequently tend to position them – if the listener picks up on that then that's amazing and if they pick up on something else that I didn't foresee in the music and get something out of it that's worthwhile to them, then that's even better. For me, I think I really just luxuriate to some extent in the details. But beyond that, it's an incredibly important psychological experience for me to slow things down and focus on the minutiae of sound – including tone itself, really – and gain some sense of intimacy with the acoustic space.
A lot of your music works with acoustic instruments in a way that makes them sound completely synthesised. In this piece though, it’s almost like you’ve done the reverse and taken a work with electronics at its core and created an acoustic track out of it – I can imagine a small chamber ensemble realising your remix really effectively. How do you approach this dividing line between electronic and acoustic and how does that impact the way you compose?
That's an interesting observation. There's a lot that can be said about that divide, and I think people have a lot of differing views on it. For me, it doesn't really make sense to fully separate acoustic and electronic – they are just different technologies that perform the same function in varying extremes. I don't make any mental separation for myself when I'm working with one or the other; it kind of just comes down to preference and context. I suppose having said that, I would think of this remix as a sort of arrangement then, just a different iteration that will express uniquely by dint of the cello idiom isolated from the electronic idiom. I'm fascinated by the individual identities and limitations of instruments and sound sources, but to me there is still a core component that unites them. Separating a synthesiser from an acoustic instrument is neither stranger nor less intuitive to me than separating two acoustic instruments – there are distinctions, yes, and they are absolutely critical to consider, but they are not diametrically opposed.
Finally, is there anything in particular that’s inspiring you at the moment and how is it changing the way you work?
In the past I've tended to work out a lot of my musical ideas through improvisation and continual real-time iteration. Lately, partly just by circumstance and partly by interest, I've been working quite a lot on ways that I can explore the same kind of process through a more traditional method of notation. It's been really interesting to think about how I can effectively translate the sense of pacing and timbral modification that I've developed in both my studio recordings and live performance practice into another realm.
Curved Form (No. 11) features the title track performed by Gabriella Swallow alongside remixes by Mira Calix, Sarah Davachi and I. It's out on Friday 6 August and can be pre-ordered via Bandcamp now.