Dudley Benson (Ngāti Pākehā) is a composer, producer and performer from Aotearoa, New Zealand. To date he has released two albums (The Awakening, Forest), three EPs, a double-live album and remix album, and has delivered both grand-scale nationwide 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. In 2014 Benson received a New Generation Award from the New Zealand Arts Foundation.
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.
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
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 (Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti 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 Māori, 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.
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 double 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 ended 2012 with performances in Dunedin, Wellington, Auckland, Tokyo and Kyoto.
In 2014 Benson released Deforestation, a collection of remixes of songs from Forest. The album features reimaginings of the acapella waiata by Matmos (US), Justin Walter (US), Barbara Morgenstern (Germany), Shuta Hasunuma (Japan), Stef Animal (NZ) and ISO12 (NZ). Dame Anne Salmond and Waka Atea guest on Dudley's own remix of Kiwi, and celebrated outsider artist Susan Te Kahurangi King created the cover image.
For 2015, Dudley is recording his third album, the final in the trilogy that began with The Awakening and continued with Forest: Songs by Hirini Melbourne.
1983 Born in Ōtautahi Christchurch, Aotearoa
1994 Head Soloist, Christchurch Cathedral Choir
2002-4 Composition student, University of Canterbury School of Music
2006 Steam Railways of Britain EP released in Aotearoa
The Orders, Medals & Decorations EP released in Aotearoa
Opens for Animal Collective, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
2007 Minerals & Rocks 12" EP released in Aotearoa
2008 The Awakening LP released in Aotearoa
The Awakening: National Church Tour
Composes for Barbara Morgenstern's Wassermusik Festival, Berlin
2009 Auckland Art Gallery commission: A Performance in Openness (In Three Parts)
The Awakening: Supplementary Workbook published in Aotearoa by Golden Retriever Press
2010 Forest: Songs by Hirini Melbourne LP released in Aotearoa
Live with the Dawn Chorus & Cat Ruka national tour
Bachelor of Arts, Māori Studies, University of Auckland
2011 Department of Conservation Artist in Residence, Naseby, Central Otago
Live Series: Volume One LP released in Aotearoa
Roots ebook published by Golden Retriever Press
2012 The Awakening & Forest released in Japan by HEADZ
Performance of Forest in response to Te Papa's Kahu Ora exhibition, Te Marae, Te Papa, arranged for harp and vocal effects
New Zealand - Japan club tour: Dunedin, Wellington, Auckland (Tiger Translate), Tokyo, Saitama, Kyoto, Kurashiki
2013 Commission to compose Tūī, Tui, Tuia. Premiered at Auckland Art Gallery. Tūī, Tui, Tuia ringtones EP released
Curator of NGĀ MIHIZ performance art evening, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Puaka Matariki Festival
Two performances with beatboxer Hopey One, Puaka Matariki Festival
Performs Spirit Loop (Cook) for Waterlines II, Puaka Matariki Festival
2014 Solo performance, Matariki Open Late Art Evening, City Gallery Wellington
Solo performance, Matariki on the Waterfront, Auckland
Deforestation remix LP released in Aotearoa, 12", CD & digital
2014 NZ Arts Foundation New Generation Award
2015 Muscles EP & video released