Dudley Benson
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Dudley Benson


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"Live Review: Dudley Benson w/ choir & string quartet (2008)"

I hope I don’t put the mockers on him, but Dudley Benson is going to be big. And by god would he deserve to as well. It’s rare to see someone so endearing live, so flagrantly talented, and unique in his craft actually start to get recognised in New Zealand. The last time I saw him was when he opened for the Animal Collective and he was dressed in a safari outfit doing hip-hop break-dancing by himself. This time he was still dancing, but had a choir, a string quartet, and a baby-grand piano at his side. It was a totally unconventional performance, and one done with humour, charm and verve. And the full audience savoured the soaring use of space that the church provided, and the lovely acoustics that his chamber-pop deserved.

The night was opened with a little lecture/welcoming by Richard Nunns on nga taonga puoro (Maori instrumentation) and their relationship to birds. The Waikato University academic and renowned scholar, was an inspired choice. He was chosen because birds played an important role in the musical imagination of Benson, and his witty, informative, fascinating talk set up Benson’s show well.

Benson walked in carrying a French flag (his forefather, Etienne Francois, was one of the first settlers of Akaroa), and he ran through a set that was deeply infused with his Canterbury heritage and the mythology of the land. He sang about Francois (‘Willow’), two boys who got lost in Rapaki in the 19th Century ‘Rapaki’) and his own wanderings through the landscape of the Port Hills (‘On the Shoulders of the Earth’). He also touched on Minnie Dean, the Southland woman who became New Zealand’s only female criminal executed (‘It’s Akaroa’s Fault’).

The sound was perfectly suited to the newly re-done church – Benson used to sing in the Cathedral Choir in Christchurch. At times, the performance was a little messy, but Benson’s winning responses made up for the little mistakes, and he introduced his songs with humorous stories. He also performed some of his more poppy numbers – ‘Asthma’, ‘I Don’t Mind’ – and the set highlight was his album closer ‘Lingeress’ despite its unusual subject matter (Oggy the hedgehog). He also played a couple of great covers too – ‘Hounds of Love’ by Kate Bush and Vashti Bunyan’s ‘The Coldest Night of the Year’ (in the latter his sister demonstrated an incredible singing voice too – clearly it’s a family thing). The music was well performed by all the musicians, and the choir were especially winning. It was a performance by a star in the making, and a New Zealand musician who breathes intelligence, warmth and a charming personality into his beautiful music. - Lumiere Reader

"Profile feature: Birds of a Feather (2010)"

Dudley Benson bridges the gap between the pop music of Kylie Minogue and the waiata of Hirini Melbourne.

Dudley Benson likes to push the boundaries of pop music. His first album, The Awakening (2008), was distinctive in the way it broke from modern trends. Rather than using slick, digitally constructed beats, he set his lilting voice against a string quartet, a choir and a harp (not to mention four recorders). His lyrics bypassed the ­standard love song, in favour of poetic meditations on the history of New Zealand, based in particular on his home city of Christchurch.

The critical reaction was overwhelmingly positive and Benson found a surprisingly wide-ranging audience, so it would be forgivable if his follow-up were an album of similar material. Instead, he has continued to take his work into new directions: his latest album, Forest, is an a cappella collection of waiata by songwriter Hirini Melbourne.

Benson saw this as a natural progression. “The Awakening dealt in colonial history and this album seems like a natural response. The two projects are obviously quite different, but one record flowed into the other so naturally that I just trusted that progression. I also think there’s this overarching interest in beauty, melody and emotion that runs between the two records.”

Benson’s own interest in melody stretches back to his childhood. His earliest musical memory is listening to his older sister’s record collection, which consisted of 80s pop stars such as Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Madonna.

He grew up on the Port Hills, which meant he could walk out into the fields and sing as loudly as he liked. His parents eventually recognised the strength of his voice and, when he was 10, arranged for him to join the Christchurch Cathedral Choir, where he eventually became head soloist. His first attempts at songwriting took place while he was studying contemporary music at the University of Canterbury, although it wasn’t until he moved to Auckland that he began to play live as a solo artist.

His early EPs were based primarily around his keyboard playing and programmed drumbeats, but he gradually realised his background as a chorister could bring something fresh to his music.

“When I first started, I would never have dreamt it would be possible to have a choir and string quartet on a record. But then, as I started performing my songs and sharing my work, I realised there are no boundaries, you only place limits on yourself.

“Obviously, gritty realities like having a limited budget do restrain you to a certain extent, particularly in New Zealand, but there’s always a way to make it work. That’s the only way to push your artform forward.”

Benson’s introduction to waiata came through his work with taonga puoro ­(traditional Maori instruments) expert Richard Nunns.

“I first got in touch with Richard during the recording of my first album because I wanted some advice about bird imitation. I’d read that he was involved in taking people into the bush, to join in the dawn chorus. So I hoped he could recommend someone to mimic bird noises for my song Asthma.

“He replied to my email saying, ‘Great, I’ll do it, I’ll be in Auckland next week.’ So the inclusion of taonga puoro on The Awakening was something a little bit out of my control, but I’m so happy it worked that way. Through working with Richard, I discovered his collaborative albums with Hirini Melbourne, but it was the Forest and Ocean album that properly introduced me to Hirini’s vision and his kaupapa.”

Forest and Ocean collects together two albums of waiata that Melbourne originally wrote and recorded in the late-70s (one focused on birds of the land and the other on seabirds). The original tracks took inspiration from traditional waiata, but Melbourne also had a feel for European folk music and accompanied his voice with intricate plucked guitar lines.

Benson was so taken with Melbourne’s work that he incorporated one of his waiata – Pipi­wharauroa (shining cuckoo) – into his live performances when it came time to promote The Awakening.

“Hirini is, for me, one of the most important New Zealand composers regardless of ethnicity. His work is the most pure expression of our environment. Particularly his folk waiata, where he was expressing the stories of native birds, insects and creatures. They’re so short and succinct that you could pass them off as being of not much significance, but in fact with a few words and some simple repetitive melodies Hirini manages to perfectly express the life-forms of Aotearoa.”

This might have been the extent of the association had it not been for Benson’s visit to the bird sanctuary of Te Wharawhara (Ulva Island).

“I was walking along through the forest, hearing the bird song, and suddenly Hirini’s waiata made new sense to me. I was also struck by the lack of birdsong in some areas, which I found extremely concerning on this pest-free sanctuary, where our birds have the best opportunity to be breeding. They’re doing better there than elsewhere, but still there’s this very concerning silence. I felt a sense of responsibility to respond to that silence.”

Benson made an instantaneous decision to record his own collection of Melbourne’s waiata, and by the end of the day had contacted Melbourne’s widow to seek her permission.

Yet it wasn’t a project he wanted to rush into without preparation. The first hurdle was his limited experience of Maori culture. “I’m a Pakeha from Christchurch and the education system I went through gave me very little exposure to Maori culture and history. So once the Forest project had been confirmed, I enrolled in the Maori studies department at the University of Auckland to prepare myself for singing in te reo. Being there also opened me up to a lot of other interests in te ao Maori, including contemporary Maori politics, indigenous issues and the representation of Maori in the media.”

Benson acknowledges there have been some disastrous results in the past when European musicians have made slapdash attempts to draw from indigenous forms of music and the hit-and-miss genre of “world music” is testament to this.

He circumvented some of the danger by deciding the album would be constructed entirely from sounds made by the human voice (the inclusion of taonga puoro on Ruru being the only exception to this rule). When he felt a keyboard sound was needed, he went to the trouble of synthesizing his voice and dropping the notes individually into place.

Even the bird calls on the album are human-generated. Benson contacted Gerry Findlay, a resident of Franz Josef whose gift for conversing with local birds saw him featured in the documentary Papatuanuku: Earth Whisperers.

The most potentially jarring inclusion on the album is the beat-boxing provided by King Homeboy (Paul Teariki Toki), who gained national attention in 2009 when he broke the world record for continuous beat-boxing (34 hours straight). Benson took great care to carefully integrate the beat-boxing into the album, which often meant stripping the beat back to individual clicks and bass-heavy grunts.

Yet King Homeboy isn’t Benson’s most surprising collaborator – that accolade must surely go to English folk singer Vashti Bunyan.

Bunyan released her first album in 1970, but it sold very poorly and her career ground to a halt. In the new millennium, she suddenly found herself being listed as a musical influence by an emerging wave of folk-inspired indie artists, including Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart.

Benson became such a huge fan of her work that he sent his first album to her and was ecstatic when she emailed him to say how much she had enjoyed it. They kept up an occasional correspondence, which finally led to her agreeing to work with him on the bilingual duet Tui.

The wide range of voices on Forest create a lush palette of sound that at its fullest encompasses a 31-person choir. At other points, the music drops away to the intimate sound of a close-matched vocal quartet.

Benson sees this contrast as being at the heart of the album’s sound. “The make-up of the quartet was largely Polynesian and Maori, which I thought would offer a counterbalance to the choir, which is generally Pakeha. The voices sound so different. I didn’t want to pretend in this process that I’m Maori, so the use of the choir is a way to acknowledge the fact that I’m a Pakeha person working currently in te ao Maori.”

Benson weaves all these elements together with the same love of catchy melodies that he first picked up listening to his sister’s record collection as a child.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get away from Kylie Minogue. The thing I love about pop music is that an uplifting chorus or musical moment can have such a powerful effect. If it helps people get through the day then that can only be a good thing, so I was really happy for there to be pop moments throughout this album.

“It all comes back to the birds, too – they’re singing their own melodies that they’ve developed throughout their lives to make their day easier, so in that sense you can say the birds are singing pop music, too.” - New Zealand Listener

"Album Review: Live Series Volume One (2011)"

Dudley Benson's EPs and albums always have a sense of occasion about them. They arrive as specially thought out, beautifully packaged little gifts with delightful or dramatic artwork (the Peter Stichbury cover painting on the limited edition vinly EP Minerals and Rocks, the applique by Florence Dennison on Forest) and there is a sense of control and care about their contents.

Benson's catalogue of songs so far might be small but they really do conform to that cliche of being "perfectly formed", especially his early work occupying the first disc here which was recorded live in Auckland's St Matthew-in-the-City in 2008 (a holy moment being there, believe me) before a hushed audience rather in awe of what it was seeing and hearing.

Although this first disc is title The Awakening Live and draws from that album, he also included songs from his earlier Orders, Medals and Decorations EP (Husband Theme, Domino) as well as the traditional spiritual Deep River (rendered like an Anglican choral piece) and a courageous reconsideration of Kate Bush's Hounds of Love.

With a choir and string quartet, it was an extraordinary night and to have it recorded with such clarity for this series is very welcome. Some of it perhaps sounds like juvenilia now (the spoken word story of the hedgehog in Lingeress) but Benson's pure voice which exudes such a charming innocence -- naive even, in the original sense of the word -- carries everything along with it.

The second disc The Forest Live recorded live at the Oratia Settlers Hall in the Waitakeres in December 2010 (which I didn't see, to my great regret on the evidence here) naturally includes mostly material from his Forest album of songs by the late Hirini Melbourne, a few pieces of which I was somewhat less enchanted by.

But here -- an a cappella set opened beautifully by the romantic old Billy Rose ballad Tonight You Belong to Me which goes back almost a century I think -- that small catalogue is expanded by other Melbourne material and includes Benson's earlier and very popular Asthma again (you don't hear "ventolin inhaler, flixotide" in a lyric often, right?), plus Nothing Left at All and On the Shoulders of the Earth which date back to 2006.

And that song Ruru which I felt didn't work on the original Forest album is here as a terrific crowd pleaser and show stopper, and lets Benson return for the aching, lachrymose Kiwi.

That these pieces all fit together in such a coherent way -- waiata meets doo-wop if you will on the terrific, previously unreleased piece Purerehua -- is not just a measure of the consistency of Benson's singular vision, but also a handsome tribute to those here (and on the other disc) who share in it and bring it to fruition.

Despite the underselling title, this is more than just live renditions of his two albums. It recontextualises and expands them through the additional material to make you consider the songs anew.

Yes, Dudley Benson albums really are special events and this one -- with six insert cards by Nigel Brown which you can rotate into the front cover -- confirms his reputation as someone unique.

That he and his fellows can do this complex music live is quite astonishing.
- Elsewhere

"Album Review: The Awakening (2008)"

Dudley Benson's debut album is full of Cantabrian tales.

In the late 60s, American art-pop pioneers Randy Newman and Van Dyke Parks had a joke that they were going to change rock ‘n’ roll by taking the backbeat out of it. Of course, Parks and Newman’s brilliantly conceived yet commercially disastrous debut albums barely registered a blip on rock ‘n’ roll’s seismograph, while rock’s backbeat marched triumphantly on.

Dudley Benson’s debut album is one Newman and Parks would appreciate. It is a sophisticated, beguiling cycle of songs that tugs at the emotions and pulls on the ear as hard as any rock ‘n’ roll. And all without a backbeat.

Benson is a 24-year-old Cantabrian who grew up on a goat farm in the Port Hills and sang in the Christchurch Cathedral choir – facts he alludes to in the songs on The Awakening.

And from the album’s first lines, “On a fine day/if Mum says ‘okay’/I go out walking in the hills where I can play”, sung in a boyish, perfectly pitched tenor, you know you’re a long way from rock ‘n’ roll.

Benson’s album is dominated by sounds normally thought of as classical: string quartet, choir and a variety of keyboards – harpsichord, organ, celeste, piano – which he plays himself. Yet his hook-filled melodies and the sense of personal revelation make this far closer in spirit to the pop singer-songwriter than any classicist. No wonder he clashed with his university music tutors.

The songs on The Awakening crisscross time, from vignettes of a pastoral childhood (On the Shoulders of the Earth, Asthma) to the arrival of his ancestors (Willow), zooming in on details with clarity (“Etienne Francois came here on a boat/with his wife, with willow in a potato/Justine Rose, she planted the trees/On the banks of the Avon ? they are still there”).

There is an element of camp in Benson’s music that is undeniable. Yet what might seem effete on the surface houses an unexpectedly tough core. Benson’s flair for fable, combined with the folkish feel of his tunes, has the whiff of an old fireside songbook. And, as in old folk songs, there is often an eeriness beneath the cosy exterior.

A case in point is It’s Akaroa’s Fault, an irresistible round, in which Benson cunningly links the chilling tale of Southland killer Minnie Dean to the region’s geography. “The fault that runs across the South Island” is more symbolic than seismic.

It is almost redundant to say The Awakening is a very New Zealand album; yet Benson doesn’t draw broadly on kiwiana the way, say, the Front Lawn did. His songs are so regionally specific that they bypass any symbols that might stand as shorthand for “national identity”. Even when Richard Nunns lends his traditional Maori instruments to Rapaki, it is to underline a tale particular to Benson’s landscape, in this case Lyttelton harbour.

No composer I have heard ? rocker, folkie or classicist ? has conjured Canterbury, its geography and its mythology, more completely. There is pastoral beauty and gothic sinisterness, Maori and Pakeha history, horror and homeliness. Benson stands amid it all, shaping his music out of the contradictions.

As individual a talent as Benson is, he is not as alone in today’s popular landscape as Parks and Newman were in theirs. The indie revolution has opened the field for all manner of gifted eccentrics, and Benson’s music can sit comfortably alongside that of Rufus Wainwright or harp-handling fabulist Joanna Newsom, independent of rock ‘n’ roll’s backbeat. - New Zealand Listener

"Album Review: Forest: Songs by Hirini Melbourne (2010)"

It would have been an immense challenge for Dudley Benson to follow-up his truly wonderful debut album The Awakening. That album was so personal and idiosyncratic, that it would have meant any follow-up would have struggled to escape the parameters he’d set for himself. However, not to fear, Benson’s follow-up, is a revelation: an album which retains Benson’s trademark humour and playfulness, with a deadly serious and earnest concept. And it’s completely different to the Awakening, which suggests a model for artists willing to circumvent the dreaded second album syndrome. It’s also one of the most unique albums to come out of this country well, since the Awakening – and it’s further proof of the fact that Benson’s fans have known for a long-time: this guy is brilliant.

Forest is based on legendary Kiwi artist and academic Hirini Melbourne’s songs. Melbourne feared the rapid disappearance of te reo Maori, and to combat this, wrote a number of simple, catchy children’s songs, as he believed capturing children’s interest was the best way to preserve the language. Melbourne’s collaborations with Richard Nunns (renowned as a taonga puoro expert) led to a number of recordings and performances at school and marae. Benson’s approach was to recontextualise some of Melbourne’s recordings (those who were present at Benson’s Awakening tour performances would have seen an early version) and he managed to recruit Nunns along to assist. Benson also prepared extensively – studying te reo at university, doing extensive research and field work (something not typically associated with musicians) to places like Ulva Island. The end result is a highly meticulous and moving tribute to Melbourne, but also an album which is heavily informed by Benson’s personality.

The album is constructed of songs about birds (and a pungawerewere AKA spider) – whether it’s pipi manu e (baby birds), tirairaka (fantail), pipiwharauroa (shining cuckoo) or the more well-known birds like the tui, the ruru (morepork) or the kiwi. The album is almost entirely composed of the voice, an arresting approach which brings the language and the birds’ voice to the fore, and makes much more immediate the relationship between the voice and the audience. The album opens with a Melbourne waiata ‘Pipi Manu E’, in which Benson’s choral background and Gerry Findlay’s birdcalls mix with King Homeboy’s beatboxing. The harmonies and unconventional song structure come to the fore, and are quite something. ‘Tirairaka’ showcases Benson’s stellar voice, and his singing match the gentle harmonies and impressive beatboxing of King Homeboy. Given Benson eschewed fixed rhythms with the Awakening, the beatboxing approach isn’t without risks (and it did jar at points, particularly in the slightly incongruous to the rest of the album ‘Ruru’ – although a more muscular song kind of matched the so-called Willie Apiata of the bird world). ‘Pipiwharauroa’ features an absolutely gorgeous choral accompaniment while the charming ‘Tui’ featured English folk legend Vashti Bunyan in a winning duet with Benson. The barbershop-esque ‘Pungawerewere’ is another beauty, but the album closer is a stunner. ‘Kiwi (Lament for Aotearoa)’ is a free-flowing, seemingly formless ten minute piece in which Benson uses silence, birdcalls, dynamic shifts and his own voice to impressive effect. It’s program music on an indie album – and it’s brilliant.

The challenge for Benson is how to sell this album. It’s too challenging and idiosyncratic for any sort of mainstream release, and probably too far removed from any trends to sneak in the indie way. If only simply being a great album would be enough. There would be few albums which are so ruthlessly ‘New Zealand’ but so unashamed in its risk-taking and vision. Through Forest, Benson has made not a moving tribute to Melbourne, but a monument to his own ambition. Fantastic stuff. - Under The Radar

"Album Review: Forest: Songs by Hirini Melbourne (2010)"

One’s finger is hard to place on the position Benson has taken in tackling these poems of the forest by Hirini Melbourne. Hip-hop beatboxing, call-and-response, spoken word, choral arrangements and pop harmonies are among the things that together have abandoned the pursuit of one strict genre descriptor for Benson’s latest work. In fact, Forest: Songs by Hirini Melbourne is reasonably well-rounded in taste-testing a variety of styles. The one tying factor that brings it all together is Dudley Benson’s a capella voice, solemnly (and often sparsely) paying tribute to the solitude of modern forests. With this (ambitiously, might I add) at the fore, Benson’s record concentrates heavily on its technicalities. Finely tuned technical mastery and some slickly confident tricks, particularly in the vocal sector, are hard at work. With good reason, too, as Benson has to leave no gaps – there is less room for instruments to make up for what his vocal arrangements lack. Couple this with the challenge of living up to the beautiful Maori language poetry he is recommunicating – and it’s with no doubt that I can say Benson has a lot to prove.

Forest overcomes its own limitations as an album, too. If you’ve heard the album already, you won’t be surprised to learn that Mandy Parnell, who was involved with mastering the album, helped produce the famous cohesive sound of artists like Dirty Projectors and Sigur Rós. Much like Forest, these are examples that experiment with sound in a way that touches the heart of a message, so from the (literal) sound of things, the forces behind this album were picked wisely. Benson’s finger, it can now be determined, is firmly fixed on a certain pulse. This one is rhythmic and understated, as is his interpretation of nature. With the other hand holding a microphone, he has no arms left to hold an instrument – so he closes his eyes and uses his few remaining senses to communicate on a spiritual level. You might want to try closing your eyes, too – you’ll be reminded of gentle nights on distant fields where just like this record, there are as few man-made devices as possible to separate you from your observations.

Benson’s interpretation of the forest, inspired by the birdsong of Stewart Island, has a strange yet familiar kind of eeriness about it. Excepting the obvious mimicry of wildlife sounds, the production, sometimes in its sparseness alone, conveys the wonder of nature without always explicitly stating it. Sometimes it’s even actually slightly discomforting, like Benson’s startling desperate shrieks in ‘Kiwi’. Other moments, such as at 2:11 in ‘Pipi Manu E’, resonate in an overwhelming way so that you may even forget momentarily what Benson is singing about. Meanwhile, the message is undercurrent enough to course throughout the veins of Hirini Melbourne’s words without ever slowing down. The music, on the other hand, is confident enough to slow right to a halt without ever losing its impact. - The Corner

"Album Review: The Awakening (2008)"

A harpsichord's tiny hammers nail a gentle melody to the cool evening air. The sound of a string quartet quivers among the pews and soars around the rafters. The twilight squeezes in through stained glass, breaking into blocks of intense colour on the flagstone floor, and a plain wooden cross behind the pulpit seems to vibrate with symbolic power, even if you're a disbelieving heathen. It is all too, too perfect.

And then it gets better still when a slender fellow up the front, wearing an unreasonable hat, starts to sing. His voice is unbearably pure and true, and it pierces your heart like an arrow shot by God.

You, my friend, have just witnessed indie chamber-pop choirboy Dudley Benson on one of his sporadic concert tours around our nation's most beautiful churches.

Of course, if you can't make it to one of his gigs, you can still buy Benson's debut album, The Awakening, and you really should, because it is marvellous beyond belief. Following a series of limited edition EPs, The Awakening arrived at precisely the right time for me, serving as a welcome palate cleanser after a recent diet of mediocre local albums. For once, this is an album that aims high and hits its mark; an album that strikes a blow for individuality, originality, and best of all, pure beauty.

Now based in Auckland, Benson grew up on a goat farm in the Port Hills above Christchurch and is a former chorister at the Christchurch Cathedral. In many of his songs, he's back down south, wandering through the Canterbury landscape, lost in deep thought. As this song cycle unfolds, Benson's personal history becomes entangled with myth, legend, history, dreams. His lyrics conjure up a population of biblical characters, Maori ancestors, figures from classical Greek mythology, the ghosts of French settlers buried in Akaroa Cemetery, and his mother, too, who died when he was 15. These figures seem as real and present to him as Jasmine, his beloved golden retriever.

Benson's lovely voice is supported throughout by startling arrangements (string quartet, 10-piece choir, recorder ensemble, harpsichord, no drums) and some endearingly eccentric songwriting. In "On the Shoulders of the Earth", our young protagonist goes walking in the countryside, having first asked his mum for permission. He sings to himself as he climbs the grassy flanks of a hill, on the way to meet his friends, who turn out to be "white quadrupeds, eating lucerne leaves". In the title track, Benson swims naked out to sea, intent on making the horizon line his bed. Haunting a cappella track "It's Akaroa's Fault" draws dark connections between the Virgin Mary, murderer Minnie Dean, and the South Island faultline. As you listen, you feel yourself drawn deep into Benson's singular world. - Sunday Star Times

"Live Review: Dudley Benson at Oratia Settlers Hall (2010)"

Oratia's Settlers Hall proved just the right down-home venue for the closing concert of Dudley Benson's national tour.

The evening was elegantly launched by Cat Ruka who brought sculptural precision to her Balinese-influenced dance piece.

Benson and his Dawn Chorus then greeted us with Tonight you belong to me in languid doo-wop; I for one was helplessly ensnared.

The main fare was the singer's new takes on Hirini Melbourne's waiata, naive yet touching salutes to the birdlife of Aotearoa.

The songs, ingeniously reworked, fluttered with new wings. Tirairaka had the fantail pirouetting in eddies of throat-singing; in Pipiwharauroa, the shining cuckoo heralded warmth and life in full choral splendour.

When not delivering his counter-tenor soul like an elfin Sam Cooke, Benson turned to his quartet of barbershoppers, conducting them with choirmasterly zeal.

In Tui, Jess Benson guested on solo vocals, and brother Dudley descanted in te reo Maori, creating the ultimate Kiwi waltz, a Blue Smoke for our times.

Not all the songs were avian in inspiration. After what could only be described as a reggae scherzo for the butterfly life-cycle in Purerehau, the hero of Pungawerewere was personalised as Paul the spider who had built his whare in the singer's flat. Here, an innocent waltz was worked up with madrigalian zest, before being taken to funktown by Hopey One's brilliant mouth-to-mike beats.

Among Benson's older material, the dark humour of Asthma, whistled and sung in breathless rounds, was warmly received. Willow had Benson soaring against a backdrop worthy of the King's Singers.

Catching the show for the second time, four weeks after its first outing, the increased confidence and relaxation of the musicians were very much evident.

And so, when Hopey One took off with a beatbox cadenza in the song Nothing Left, the audience could barely be restrained; a second beatbox breakout in It's Akaroa's Fault had the Dawn Chorus letting loose with sharp dance moves behind their mikes.

Encores included a valiant, unaccompanied seven-minute waiata in progress.

Miraculously sustained, it concerned an eco-message hiding in beautiful birdsong and Benson gauged its rhetoric and vulnerability to perfection. - New Zealand Herald



Live Series: Volume One (2011)
Forest: Songs by Hirini Melbourne (2010)
The Awakening (2008)


Minerals & Rocks 12" (2007)
The Orders, Medals & Decorations EP (2006)
Steam Railways of Britain EP (2006)



Dudley Benson is a composer, producer and performer from Aotearoa, New Zealand. To date he has released two albums, three EPs, a double-live album and has delivered both grand-scale tours and intimate one-off performances in unorthodox venues, all the while cementing a place as one of the most innovative and unpredictable voices in New Zealand music. Benson is released in New Zealand by Golden Retriever Records and in Japan by HEADZ.

A former boy chorister of the Christchurch Cathedral, in 2006 Benson released his music-school written songs as the handmade Steam Railways of Britain EP & The Orders, Medals & Decorations EP, through his own label Golden Retriever Records. Selling out within their first month of release, Benson completed the trilogy with a 12” remix EP with reconstructions by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone (US) and Stefanimal (NZ), and cover artwork by celebrated New Zealand painter Peter Stichbury. It was his 2008 debut LP The Awakening, however that heralded his musical arrival in a subtle, yet profoundly distinctive way.

The Awakening (2008)

A testament to loss, the passing of time, and the Southern landscape of Benson’s native Canterbury, The Awakening is a song cycle that weaves together memories of New Zealand’s colonial past with a personal and emotional nostalgia for childhood. Three years in the making and featuring Benson accompanied by a tapestry of harpsichord, choir, string and recorder quartets, The Awakening is also playful, redemptive and uplifting. Produced by Benson and mastered by Mandy Parnell (Max Richter, Dirty Projectors), the album was a critical success. Its status was further confirmed by a nationwide tour of New Zealand’s historic churches and cathedrals with Benson’s ensemble of choir, string quartet and taonga puoro authority Dr Richard Nunns.

After presenting a new work for Barbara Morgenstern’s Wassermusik festival in Berlin, performing a commission by the Auckland Art Gallery in response to Te Papa’s Rita Angus: Life & Vision retrospective, and publishing The Awakening: Supplementary Workbook, Benson embarked on creating his anticipated second album.

Forest: Songs by Hirini Melbourne (2010)

While visiting the Southern bird sanctuary Ulva Island, Benson became deeply concerned by the silence that permeated the forests, and the greater plight of Aotearoa’s native birdlife. So, inspired by his love for the waiata of the renowned composer Hirini Melbourne (Ngai Tuhoe, Ngati Kahungunu), Benson arranged his own interpretations of Melbourne’s bird songs and in late 2010 announced their release as Forest: Songs by Hirini Melbourne.

Recorded almost entirely with only the human voice and sung largely in te reo Maori, Forest tells the stories of New Zealand’s native birds through seven vividly-textured pop pieces that exist somewhere between the traditions of folksong and barbershop, choral anthem and hip hop. Produced by Benson and mastered by Parnell, the album features a bold contingent of guest artists including close-harmony vocal quartet The Dawn Chorus, reigning Aotearoa beatbox champion King Homeboy, and legendary folk matriarch Vashti Bunyan. Forest was nominated for the 2011 Taite Music Prize.

Benson performed the critically lauded Forest live on a ten-date marae and community hall tour, Live with the Dawn Chorus, with his all-vocal ensemble of alt-barbershoppers, Australian-based female beatboxer Hopey One, and maverick dance artist Cat Ruka. Coupled with Andre Upston's stunning recording of Benson's 2008 performance at Auckland's St Matthew-in-the-City with choir & string quartet, the final show of the a capella tour was released in 2011 as the doulbe album Live Series: Volume One, featuring six individual cards of original artwork by Nigel Brown.


As a one-off response to Te Papa's 2012 Kahu Ora exhibition, Benson performed Forest in an arrangement for only harp and vocal effects.

With a new solo electronics-based club show and following the release of his two albums in Japan by boutique independent label HEADZ, Benson ends 2012 with performances in Dunedin, Wellington, Auckland, Tokyo and Kyoto.

Benson is currently curating a collaborative release for 2013 with several international and New Zealand artists, and writing his anticipated third LP.