Monday, September 26, 2011


If you've done any traveling in New Brunswick, you know what Kouchibouguac National Park looks like.  But what does it sound like?  Not the gulls and wind through the trees and happy campers preparing breakfast, not that sound.  What would it sound like as a song?

That was the challenge facing three musicians, and one filmmaker, dispatched to the park in 2010.  Across the country, similar teams were sent out to parks in each province and territory.  It's called the National Parks Project, and featured such artists as Sarah Harmer, Sam Roberts, Matt Mays, Kathleen Edwards, Old Man Luedecke and 34 others.  The National Parks Project aims to explore the ways in which the wilderness shapes our cultural imagination.  So this series of films and music was put together, and it's been airing on Discovery World channel, in a documentary narrated by Gord Downie.  While the tunes have been married to the visuals, and available on iTunes, now we get a CD collection.  (Vinyl hounds take note:  you get a bonus six tracks on a 2 LP set, as opposed to the 20 here).

This is not a particularly easy task.  If you're looking for strict inspiration from a tranquil setting, odds are you're going to get pretty calm music, and that is what has happened with much of the music here.  Despite the inclusion of lots of Canuck indie rockers, most are mellowed out and trying to tap into their folk or ambient sides.  I like the tracks with a little life to them, such as the couple here by Old Man Luedecke.  Proof, as Steve Martin once told us, “You can't play a sad song on the banjo - it always comes out so cheerful.”

Back to New Brunswick, it actually inspired the best song on the collection, a real epic, with different movements and a stand-alone sound, quite something even without its companion film.  It's called Mystic Morning, and feature the talents of Don Kerr, one-time Rheostatic and frequent collaborator of Ron Sexsmith, Casey Macija, the intriguing and high-pitched vocalist with Ohbijou, and Ohad Benchetrit, the multi-instrumentalist with Do Make Say Think, and musical pal of Broken Social Scene and Feist.  The films probably give us more of the inspiration for each song, but in this case, the trio had no interest in recording background music.

Soundtrack work is always a different beast than normal recording, as the music is supposed to add to the film, and be collaborative between the disciplines.  However, when you are putting 13 such pieces together, and presenting it as a finished collection, you can only hope and pray for some cohesiveness, or lucky break to make it all interesting.  I find too much sleepy-time music was made here, either late at night or early in the morning.  Maybe if you and I head out to a national park and listen on our iPods as the sun sets, we'll love it, but here in my living room, I nodded off.

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