For his new album Every time, musician Jonathan Kawchuk didn’t just record in the Rockies. He recorded with the Rockies. It may seem like a minor distinction, but it’s crucial to the painstaking eight-year project.
The idea was high-concept, even if it seems quite simple: to record music in the mountains, as one would in a cathedral or a concert hall, with the atmosphere of the place integrated into the final product.
The execution, however, was anything but simple.
“You know, I never started thinking, let’s do the most complicated technology and suffer in the bush,” says Kawchuk, 29, who is described as an experimental composer, wildlife recorder and musical ecologist. “So much about this album made us do things for the first time. Which, once the romance of that was removed… was a monumental technical challenge.
Official video “Everywwhen” by Studio Everywhen (Brad Necyk x Jonathan Kawchuk
In an effort to capture what he hears and sees in the mountains, Kawchuk recorded vocals in Toronto and Montreal, using talent that included jazz and metal artists. Later, he played those vocals in surround sound in the Rockies at Kananaskis, painstakingly recording the playback in Dolby Atmos 3D. From there, he “pasted” the elements to create the tracks on Every timewhich is slated for release on Friday.
As a teenager in Edmonton, Kawchuk would take a small recorder out into the wilderness and make field recordings. In high school, he was going to play bass in a band, but the guitar he needed ran out, so he bought a synthesizer instead. It came with recording software. An obsession was born.
Developing a career in music, he realized he could incorporate his love of nature into this pursuit.
Kawchuk, who was born in Calgary, released his first album, North, playing music he had recorded in various places around the world in a national park in Norway. For his sequel, he wanted to do something closer to home, the Rockies.
During a music residency at the Banff Center in 2018, he found a place in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park that suited him. It wasn’t recorded, wasn’t too far from the Banff Centre, and most importantly gave it the right sound.
For vocals, he wanted to push performers to exhaustion, echo the feeling of hiking in the Rockies — and strip any artifice out of a performance. In the studio, he made them do burpees and other exercises so that they were physically exhausted when they started singing.
In the Rockies, he set up a large circle “like a witch coven” of seven speakers, with 11 microphones – seven pointed at the speakers and four pointed up to pick up sound in the forest canopy. .
It involved hours of work every day: driving his little Acura loaded with hundreds of pounds of gear from the Banff center to the site, hauling it all over several trips, setting it up, recording for as long as it had battery power, and then hitting everything. Most of the time he did this work by himself; sometimes he received help from a cousin.
Time was limited. He couldn’t be there at dawn or dusk, when predators are most active. The weather conditions were also crucial. One day it spent three hours setting up, recording for about two minutes, then a windstorm kicked in, followed by unexpected rain. He had to take everything apart. You can hear the wind storm at the end of the final track, Every time (the video of Every time comes out Thursday).
When the recording was done, mixing became another complex technical puzzle. The solutions for some things he wanted to do hadn’t been invented yet, he says.
“Much of this battle was fought in front of a computer,” he says. “You have a problem and it becomes a three week problem. … Whereas if it had been compatible with Google, it would have taken an hour.
He searched for answers in all sorts of ways, including, in one instance, flying to Munich — he was already in Berlin — to get advice in person from the Blu-ray guru working on the project.
This battle became even more complicated when the pandemic hit. In-person studio time with collaborators was not possible, and large files could not be exchanged easily.
Sometimes he would come across a problem, put it aside and work on something else. In the meantime, something would be invented that would solve the problem. “And I would be like oh my God, we can do this now.” The biggest stroke of luck, he says, is that Apple Music now offers Dolby Atmos. (A Blu-ray version, the original plan, is also available.)
The album’s title comes from what Kawchuk calls “this kind of weird timelessness that happens when you’re in the Rockies,” he explains. “You are surrounded by the result of millions of years of evolution and ecology. There is a strange and anachronistic thing that happens when you are there. And that feeling of being part of geological time for a little while, rather than human time, is part of what I was looking for with the record.
Kawchuk, a volunteer paleontologist, has since worked on a project that aims to recreate the soundscapes of the prehistoric world – a concept he may continue to explore. He became the Canadian representative for Quiet Parks International, which intends to announce the first certified quiet park in Canada. (As a dark sky reserve, but for the noise.)
It’s a happy record, he points out, although it’s impossible not to consider the effect of the climate emergency on this place.
He hopes that this record that was so difficult to make will in some ways be difficult to consume. He imagines a listener finishing the tracks, taking off his headphones, wiping his brow and thinking, it was really nice, but i can’t listen anymore, not right now. “I want it to be a bit overwhelming,” Kawchuk says, “in a nice, enjoyable way.”
A listening event will take place on June 13 at the Yonge-Dundas Cineplex Theater where the public will be able to experience the album in full Dolby Atmos. https://sidedooraccess.com/shows/fSVYVTWMx9K1bwOi2WAv