Dudley Benson is a composer, producer and performer living in Dunedin, New Zealand. To date he has released two albums (The Awakening, Forest: Songs by Hirini Melbourne), three EPs, a double live album, remix album (Deforestation), performed two nationwide New Zealand tours (2008, 2010) and a Japanese tour (2012). As an eleven-year old he was the soloist of the Christchurch Cathedral choir, and it has been noted that this period has influenced his work as an adult solo artist. In 2014 he won an Arts Foundation of New Zealand New Generation Award. Benson's work is released in New Zealand by his own label, Golden Retriever Records, and in Japan by HEADZ.
Benson was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1983. At ten years of age he was given a choral scholarship to the Christchurch Cathedral choir, a renowned Anglican church choir modelled on the English tradition and under the direction of the late David Childs. After three years he became the Head Soloist. During this time Benson has said he had a strong interest in mainstream pop music, passed on to him by his older sister. Continuing to study choral singing through high school, Benson then went on to study composition for three years at the University of Canterbury’s school of music. Many of the songs on his future EPs were written during this time, and in an American literature paper Benson read The Awakening by Kate Chopin, which would go on to be the title of his 2008 debut album.
After moving to Auckland in 2005, Benson released the handmade Steam Railways of Britain EP & The Orders, Medals & Decorations EP both in 2006, 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 remixes by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone and Stefanimal, and cover artwork by celebrated New Zealand painter Peter Stichbury. Benson performed material from the EPs in clubs and bars in a solo setup with keyboard, glockenspiel and omnichord, however he became dissatisfied with playing in this environment. He has not performed in bars since. During this period he supported Casiotone for the Painfully Alone and Animal Collective.
In 2008 Benson released his self-produced debut LP The Awakening. Recorded by Adrian Hollay and mastered by Mandy Parnell, the album went on to be one of the most critically acclaimed New Zealand albums of the year. The Awakening’s success was further confirmed by a nationwide tour of New Zealand’s historic churches and cathedrals with an ensemble of choir, string quartet and taonga puoro authority Dr Richard Nunns. Also in 2008, Benson presented Whales! Everywhere!, a choral work for Barbara Morgenstern’s Wassermusik festival in Berlin.
In 2009, Benson presented A Performance In Openness, a commission by the Auckland Art Gallery in response to Te Papa’s Rita Angus: Life & Vision retrospective, for which he performed nude. He also published The Awakening: Supplementary Workbook. During this time he began studying te reo Maori and Maori political papers at the University of Auckland’s Maori Studies department. He graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Maori Studies.
In late 2010 inspired by his love for the waiata of renowned composer Hirini Melbourne (Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Kahungunu) and the plight of Aotearoa’s native birdlife, Benson arranged his own interpretations of Melbourne’s bird songs and released his second full length album, Forest: Songs by Hirini Melbourne. Aside from the taonga puoro of guest artist Richard Nunns, Forest was recorded using only the human voice, and features a close-harmony male vocal quartet, Aotearoa beatbox champion King Homeboy, bird mimic, four-part choir and 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. Forest: Songs by Hirini Melbourne was shortlisted for the 2011 Taite Music Prize and was included in many critics’ ‘albums of the year’ lists.
Coupled with Andre Upston's 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 Forest tour was released in 2011 as the double album Live Series: Volume One, featuring six individual cards of original artwork by New Zealand painter Nigel Brown.
In 2012 Benson performed Forest solo with harp, in response to Te Papa's Kahu Ora exhibition, in Wellington, New Zealand.
In 2012 the Japanese label HEADZ released The Awakening and Forest in Japan, and Benson performed in Tokyo, Kyoto and Okayama.
In 2013 Benson presented Tūī, Tui, Tuia at the Auckland Art Gallery, a commissioned 10-minute electronic work made from tui calls sampled from bird sanctuaries in the Auckland region. An EP of ringtones made from the piece was also released.
Benson presented several performance art pieces for Dunedin's 2013 Matariki Festival, including Spirit Loop (Cook) in which he presented an interpretation of James Cook's 1769 arrival in New Zealand, featuring himself as a zombified Cook.
On November 3 2014 Benson released Deforestation, an album of remixes of songs from Forest: Songs by Hirini Melbourne (2010). The album features remixes by Matmos, Stef Animal, Shuta Hasunuma, Barbara Morgenstern, ISO12, Justin Walter, and Benson. It features contributions from Dame Anne Salmond and taonga puoro performers Waka Atea. The artwork is by Susan Te Kahurangi King, subject of Dan Salmon's film Pictures of Susan. All profits from the sales of the album are given to the Ulva Island Charitable Trust, caretakers of the bird sanctuary Te Wharawhara, Rakiura Stewart Island.
Benson is currently recording his third album, the final in the trilogy that began with The Awakening and continued with Forest: Songs by Hirini Melbourne.
- Mushrooms & Toadstools EP, Limited edition of 100 (1 April 2006)
- Steam Railways of Britain EP, Limited edition of 75 (26 July 2006)
- The Orders, Medals & Decorations EP, Limited edition of 175 (14 November 2006)
- Minerals & Rocks, 12" vinyl, Limited edition of 200 (15 November 2007)
- The Awakening, (10 March 2008)
- Forest: Songs by Hirini Melbourne, (1 November 2010)
- Live Series: Volume One, (14 November 2011)
- "Tui, Tūī, Tūīa Ringtones EP" (16 August 2013)
- "Deforestation" (3 November 2014)