Montreal musicians mourn the loss of veteran musical engineer Rob Heaney


Montreal sound engineer Rob Heaney died of a heart attack on June 11, 2021.

Courtesy of Jenny Gilbert

Music producer Bill Garrett got a call from Montreal sound engineer Rob Heaney on the afternoon of June 11. The duo were supposed to have an online meeting that afternoon with the two members of Canadian folk group Mama’s Broke to listen to the mixes for the band’s upcoming album. .

“He called around three o’clock and said, ‘I’m in the car, I feel really, really ugly. I feel dizzy, ”Garrett said. “So I said, ‘Don’t worry. Go home, I’ll cancel the session with the others. And he must have had a heart attack a few minutes later because he was in his car when he died.

Heaney had a heart attack in his car on his way to his home in Pointe-St-Charles. The car was involved in a minor accident, but it was the heart attack that killed it. He was 61 years old.

Heaney was one of the province’s most sought-after engineers and had worked on recordings with Patrick Watson, Elsiane, The Franklin Electric, Michel Pagliaro, Ray Bonneville, Isabelle Boulay and Kevin Parent. He had also worked for Cirque du Soleil since 1994, producing and mixing numerous Montreal circus albums, including Grammy-nominated Alegría. He has also worked as an engineer on numerous film and television projects. The job of a music producer is to make sure that all instruments and sound elements fit together optimally.

He was also the live mixer for Kate and Anna McGarrigle concerts for much of their careers.

“He was without a doubt one of the best engineers in the country,” Garrett said. “I’ve worked with some of the best in Toronto and Vancouver, and I can tell you he’s absolutely some of the best.

Joel Zifkin, who played violin with the McGarrigles for years, said Heaney was a real ace on the concert hall.

“He could make it sound good,” Zifkin said. “I’ve worked with faster road engineers, but he sounded as good as anyone. He was the road warrior. You’re always in a different room where everything sounds different and there are different weird properties that are more difficult for the sound engineer than the other rooms. In the end, the audience got great sound. They were able to hear the music correctly. He had the McGarrigles. He didn’t make them sound like anything else. He made them sound like they do, only better.

Montreal drummer and percussionist Thom Gossage, who worked with Heaney often, said Heaney’s genius was understanding the musicians he worked with.

“It was like he was part of your team,” Gossage said. “He really wanted to do his best for you. He was not condescending. It wouldn’t put you down because you didn’t know which mic to use. It was always about getting the best sound. I found him to be very inclusive in his way of being in the studio. I thought he was so wise about the sound. He didn’t have one way of doing things. He would not insist on using only one type of microphone for an instrument. He would come in front of the instrument and listen and see if it sounded right. It was about working with you to get the right sound.

His friends and colleagues speak of his endearing personality, curiosity and enthusiasm for meeting people.

“He savored absolutely everything he did, whether it was the food he ate or the people he was with,” said Jenny Gilbert, his ex-wife and mother of their daughter, Kyla Gilbert. “He invested his energy as much as possible. It was almost like he was a little kid with his energy… and he had his partner, Nancy (Chisholm), whom he absolutely adored and she absolutely adored him… He loved her in pieces. He loved life.

Gavin Fernandes, who had worked with Heaney since the 1980s, said he always had time to help his younger colleagues. And he never panicked in the studio.

“He’s always been super calm,” said Fernandes, who is a sound mixer in the film and television industry and has often worked on projects with Heaney. “He had 40 or 50 musicians on the floor, and he was cool as a cucumber. He talks to them through it. He never raises his voice. He was the voice of calm in the storm, and that gave the musicians confidence. “

Singer-songwriter Rob Lutes added, “Everyone’s broken because we’ve lost this really special guy who was also this amazing musical confidant, collaborator, guide. It is a significant loss.

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