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First Play: Jonathan Kawchuk, North

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By
Holly Gordon

“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.”

Jonathan Kawchuk is talking about the late architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s work philosophy, as well as his own: in a press release, the Alberta-born neo-classical composer details his relationship to nature, calling North, his debut album, “part of an ongoing dialogue” with the natural world.

It’s a relationship you can feel in the vibrancy of North's eight tracks — which you can stream in the player to the left one week before the album's release — while it’s also quite literal: after recording the tracks, Kawchuk played them through speakers he set up in the forests of Norway’s Jostedalsbreen National Park, recording the playback. What you’re hearing with this release is how Kawchuk heard North, standing in the middle of that forest.

Kawchuk’s resumé is robust: a soundtrack composer, sound designer and technician, he’s worked on Nico Muhly and Ben Frost albums, and as an assistant sound tech for the Philip Glass Ensemble. He studied music composition, technology and production at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts in the U.K. North, however, marks Kawchuk’s first solo record via Paper Bag Records.

Recorded with musicians and friends in Canada, the U.K., Iceland, Norway, Portugal and Israel, North mixes electronic and acoustic instruments, resulting in a soundscape that is both alive and manipulated. The whispers on single “Lagos” swirl together until a sparse but forceful piano momentarily breaks through, while the piano takes the spotlight amid some unnerving strings on “Bodied.” A song like "Ebb" is gently soothing, while the next track on the album, "Fast Twitch," proves true to its name until a calm at the very end.

North could be the perfect soundtrack to a wildlife documentary, though it fits just as perfectly settled into your headphones, the visuals a blank slate.

Jonathan Kawchuk's debut album received a very limited release in 2016, but will be available widely on all platforms as of Jan. 26. Pre-order it here.