Yukon musician stands in for Jesus

He’s big in Taiwan. In fact, Yukon musician Mathew Lien’s so big — he replaced Jesus.

He’s big in Taiwan.

In fact, Yukon musician Mathew Lien’s so big — he replaced Jesus.

Lien took Christ’s seat in a new rendering of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper.

But he wasn’t into the bread and wine.

It was Taiwan beer Lien was worshipping.

“As a recording artist that tries to keep focused on messages of environmental and cultural importance, I’ve got a responsibility to myself and to the people that appreciate what I do, to keep my message kind of clear,” said Lien.

“And if I do promote something, I’ve got to be able to explain why.”

So, why promote Taiwan’s Gold Medal King beer?

It’s an easy thing to defend, said Lien, who grew up with a Bavarian mother.

“Beer is definitely a part of my world.

“And when you focus on environmental and cultural issues, sometimes you can get put up on a pedestal a little bit too high and that makes me a little uncomfortable.

“So, I felt that doing this beer campaign would kind of help to normalize my image.”

Lien did contemplate the religious, and possibly offensive, implications of the ad, he said — “I wondered whether I was going to be stepping on people’s spiritually sensitive toes.

“But I believe Christ had a sense of humour and it just sounded like a light-hearted, fun thing to do.”

Lien also shot a TV commercial for the Taiwan beer company — out recording nature sounds, Lien meets up with river tracers, climbing a Taiwanese torrent, and at the end of the day, they end up at a campfire where they chat over beer. 

“So the commercial was very much in keeping with my image — plus beer,” said Lien.

“That’s what I do in a lot of my life is spend time recording in nature, meeting interesting people and celebrating with people.”

For almost a decade, Lien has been recording sounds from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

And he’s just released another CD, Arctic Refuge, a compositional soundscape that blends clicking caribou hooves and chittering pikas with Davis Sinclair’s guitar and local drum and bass tracks by Lonnie Powell and Paul Stevens.

Lien hopes to use the album as a promotional product to raise awareness surrounding the proposed oil drilling in the Porcupine caribou herds’ calving grounds.

But, he doesn’t want the project to come across as preachy, he said.

“If I can successfully use my music to express my own adoration for this beautiful place and that, in turn, touches other peoples’ hearts, I really feel that’s a powerful tool in heightening people’s sensitivity about protecting an area against this kind of oil development — that would clearly be damaging to a fragile ecosystem.

“As an artist, the first focus is simply expressing what I feel about it, which is the beauty and the power of this really rich, deep, age-old wilderness and the aboriginal culture that exists there.”

Arctic Refuge is the first album Lien has produced in 5.1 surround sound, fusing his high-tech, highly produced recordings with unique nature sounds.

“I think I have the most in-your-face recording of chirping pikas of anyone in the world,” bragged Lien.

The small, fluffy, grey rodents share the Arctic refuge with the caribou, bears and eagles, and Lien wanted them recorded as part of his soundscape.

But they’re elusive.

Hunting the mysterious pikas during one of his Arctic visits, Lien packed up his recording gear and headed out across the tundra looking for the rock piles the furry mammals frequent.

Half an hour into the hike, it started to rain.

“My first concern was my gear,” said Lien.

Finding some jumbled rocks, he tucked his high-end microphone into a deep, dry crevasse.

Not an ordinary stage microphone, Lien’s boom mic is covered in a fluffy, grey protective cover — a fluffy, grey cover that closely resembles the fur of a pika.

As it turned out, Lien had placed his mike at the front door of a pika den and the resident pika came out to chirp at the fluffy intruder.

The “in-your-face” recording of the interaction can heard on track one of his new CD.

Recording caribou can be tricky too, said Lien.

Looking across the windswept, treeless tundra, a herd can be spotted way off in the distance.

“But the challenge is to figure out where they’re going to go and plant yourself in the right spot,” he said.

While recording in the refuge, Lien started to share the caribous’ rhythms. When they were moving, he was moving. When they lay down to rest, he took a nap in the tussocks.

“You can record the subtly when they run past, the clicking of the tendons in their hooves,” he said.

“Sounds in nature offer as much of a musical palette as any studio musician.”

Lien co-founded the Caribou Commons Project in 1998, when a group of eight musicians collaborated to create a CD to raise awareness on the ANWR issue.

But this new CD is different, he said.

“Now, it’s my own personal project and there are far more than eight musicians; there are lots of different diverse musical styles.”

Lien has been in Taiwan for the last year, although he’d only planned to stay for a month.

However, when he won a Golden Melody Award for best world music, making him the first westerner to receive such an honour, he decided to stick around.

“To be the first foreigner to represent the Yukon in such an environment is very cool,” he said.

For the last few months, Lien has been touring Taiwan as a cultural ambassador giving speeches and raising environmental consciousness.

And, after a brief Yukon reprieve, he will be returning to Asia, where beer drinkers associate him with Jesus.

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