North is where a teenage indie rocker ends up when he buys a synthesizer instead of the bass guitar he really wanted. North is what happens when a student has his mind blown by an impenetrable piece of music. North is the reflection of the philosophies of a master architect. What this all adds up to is the accomplished debut album from Canadian composer Jonathan Kawchuk.
North’s evocative soundscapes and delicate melodies were inspired and recorded by a cast of musicians and friends spread across Canada, the UK, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, and Israel. In his final act of creation, Kawchuk broadcast the album through speakers and into the forests of Norway’s Jostedalsbreen National Park, home to the largest glacier in continental Europe. North, as you hear it, is the re-recorded result.
For Kawchuk, the eight glimmering tracks on North are part of an ongoing dialogue. “The process of recording North that way was about taking all these compositions inspired by the natural world and putting them back into nature so it wasn’t just a one-sided conversation.”
For Kawchuk, that conversation began in his home province of Alberta, in the shadow of the Canadian Rockies. “As a kid, I desperately wanted to be a palaeontologist. I think that’s where my relationship with nature really began.”
A growing interest in music saw Kawchuk playing in high school bands before fate stepped in. “I went to buy a bass and the guy in front of me bought it, so I bought a crappy synthesizer and that’s when I started recording. I think things would have turned out differently if I’d actually bought the bass.”
Kawchuk finally found his footing when he discovered modern classical music. “During a university class, I had to listen to this piece, Eight Songs for a Mad King. It was awful and unlistenably academic but it also showed me how far music could go.”
Kawchuk went on to work with Nico Muhly and Ben Frost, and as an assistant sound tech for the Philip Glass Ensemble. However, one of North’s key influences come from a decidedly non-musical source, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whom Kawchuk discovered on a visit to Taliesin West, Wright’s former winter residence and now the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
“Frank Lloyd Wright felt that nature was a wonderful aesthetic constant and that a tree or mountain can’t go out of style,” Kawchuk says. “It’s the idea that the closer an artist gets to emulating nature, the more timeless their work will be. I decided that’s what I should be doing for the rest of my life.”
North’s power lies in Kawchuk’s subtle and organic combinations of acoustic and electronic sounds. And despite the album’s name, North isn’t meant to chill the listener.
“North is about my relationship to the northern locations where I base myself and the people I care for who live there. It’s about the warmth of winter. It’s music that speaks from a really emotionally vulnerable place.”