Graham Reid | | 3 min read
Dudley Benson – who recently received a $25,000 New Generation Artist award from Westpac – has a small, and some might say, perfectly formed catalogue.
But it is small.
Then there was the live album (excellent incidentally, it forced a reconsideration of the previously released material so we should welcome the Vol 2).
And now this, a remix album of pieces from that second 2010 album Forest: Songs of Hirini Melbourne.
See what I mean about small?
Not that it matters in a way, because as that live album – and this frequently mesmersing remix of Forest -- prove, Benson's material in impressively malleable. And he's obviously smart enough (and well connected) to know how to work it.
To backtrack on Dudley: The first time I saw him he was a slightly nervous and very unimposing solo artist with tapes and a keyboard in a rundown indie bar in downtown Auckland opening for the wonderfully named Casiotone for the Painfully Alone from the US.
Casiotone drew a very select and introspective indie.kid audience (about 40 people at a guess) but much as I loved what he did, I went away astonished by the emotional power of Benson's performance with the vague idea I had just witnessed someone very special, not to say gifted.
The next time I saw him, maybe a year later, he was in the nave of St Matthews-in-the-City in Auckland with strings, guest vocalists and an attentive audience of many folk who were at least two decades older than the indie.kids at that earlier gig. I think it was invite-only, there was a queue and a programme at the door.
Benson's "people" – and even then I had the impression there was an inner-circle of protectors and such -- knew to create An Event and Dudley had somehow created a cachet which meant he was someone that fashion-forward people in the art/music world wanted to be associated with. That they didn't buy records or go to shows seemed incidental.
Benson makes art music – not alt.pop or whatever label was once out there for him initially -- and there is an elegance, discretion and quiet grace about his music.
He is also well connected in the rarified world of the arts and his first album on vinyl came in a cover with a portrait by Peter Stitchbury (right). So young Dudley -- who had famously been "a chorister" in his bio which I repeated -- was never quite the innocent-abroad in this wicked world that some might have had him.
And here the contributors include Dame Anne Salmond and Barbara Morgenstern.
This project – which has remixes by Matmos, Stef Animal, Shuta Hasunuma and others, which shows his global reach – is not some dancefloor-directed duffing-up of source material.
It is a cleverly diverse use of the original pieces which were subtle, soft and respectful of the late Melbourne's songs.
Matmos are very cautious on Pipi Manu E although Hasunuma takes some stuttering cut-up liberties on Ruru which, to be fair, is a repetition-driven piece which almost invites it. Almost.
(I don't like it, and I do understand the "disruptive" concept in art.)
The dub of Tirairaka (with Morgenstern) however is a sheer delight where contemporary-meets-ancient; and you just have to love the subtle, smart and ambient Iso12 remix of Pipiwharauroa. (If there's such a thing as an Iso 20-minute version of this hypnotically minimalist treatment then sign me up!)
Thereafter however things get slightly darker with the Justin Walter remix of Pungawerewere which pulls out some quasi-industrial tones from Benson's music in a weirdly futuristically if discordantly ambient treatment of traditional thoughts. (Perhaps I hear too many allusions to Michael Kamen's noir-soundtracks and Vangelis' Bladerunner these days).
But Benson's own Purerehua -- and especially the lovely, otherworldly Tui with Vashti Bunyan (told you he was connected) which follows -- brings it home in gorgeously soft, almost liturgical pieces (as befits a former chorister who understand quiet electronica).
So . . . a small body of work parlayed yet again? Yes.
But yet again -- as with the live album -- new, discrete and discreet layers exposed, brought to light and allowed to find new spaces.
Dudley Benson's website is here
You can order this on vinyl from here. I have.