Exhibitionists·Video

See hauntingly beautiful 3D music being recorded using the Banff wilderness as a studio

Surrounded by speakers in the forest, hearing Jonathan Kawchuk's music is a magical experience.

Surrounded by speakers in the forest, hearing Jonathan Kawchuk's music is a magical experience

Jonathan Kawchuk places microphones in the forest to record his music. It takes him hours to set-up in the limited amount of time between dawn and dusk. (Courtesy Jonathan Kawchuk)

Jonathan Kawchuk has a music practice like no other. The Alberta-born composer and musician drives out to remote landscapes, far from any human noise, and uses the forest as a studio. Once out there, he takes his previously recorded tracks and plays them aloud on seven speakers surrounding eleven microphones to re-record the way that the music sounds in the wilderness. And the result, as CBC Arts: Exhibitionists host Amanda Parris describes, is haunting.

Watch as Jonathan walks Amanda through his process — and then experience it for yourself:

For Parris, the experience of hearing Kawchuk's music in 3D on speakers in the forest was magical. She got a glimpse of his process at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, where he was participating in an artist residency to work on his second album. The vocals and instruments for the album were previously recorded in a Toronto studio, but he wanted to re-record the compositions in the Rocky Mountain landscape to add another layer to his music. This new album (set to release in 2020) follows up his debut North, which was made with a similar outdoor re-recording process in Norway's Jostedal National Park.

As Parris discovered, Kawchuk's intention behind re-recording in the wilderness isn't just to add in a few birds chirping or a stream in the distance — it's much more thoughtful than that. He explains, "For me, the instruments are the speakers because they're playing back the music that I've already arranged, and the hall is the forest." He says he's hoping to capture "the way that sound bounces around a forest, sort of the same way sound might bounce around a cathedral and echo and reverberate."

Jonathan Kawchuk explains his process to CBC Arts host Amanda Parris (CBC Arts)

The sound of the landscape may be subtle in the final track, but Kawchuk explains: "The beautiful thing about humans is we can subconsciously tell what environment we're in with reverb. So it's kind of my hope that even though a person might not immediately be able to pinpoint, 'Oh, it's a forest in the Rockies in this area,' there would be kind of a subconscious feel to it where that vibe is translated."

Kawchuk, who grew up in Calgary and Edmonton, believes that recording in this environment is also a way to document a landscape that's rapidly altering due to climate change. He says that his music is an attempt to "show that these places are beautiful in so many ways and if that can be translated, maybe people might come to their own conclusions that maybe they're worth preserving in other ways."

Microphones are placed in the centre of a circle of speakers where they re-record Kawchuk's music tracks and capture the reverb of the forest. (Courtesy Jonathan Kawchuk)
Kawchuk sets up a circle of speakers to play back his music in the wilderness. (Courtesy Jonathan Kawchuk)

Stream CBC Arts: Exhibitionists or catch it on CBC Television Friday nights at 11:30pm (12am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT). Watch more videos here.

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