Festival an 'artistic success'

Rhian Sheehan performs an audio visual show with members of the Dunedin Youth Orchestra and Sophie Morris. Photo: Linda Robertson
Rhian Sheehan performs an audio visual show with members of the Dunedin Youth Orchestra and Sophie Morris. Photo: Linda Robertson

Behind my desk, pinned to the louvre blinds, are six badges heralding the seven ages of rock.

They date from a TV series. I’m missing one category, but might have discovered it on Saturday night at Dunedin Town Hall, where Wellington-based musical architect Rhian Sheehan presented riffs from another epoch.

The age he inhabits might be ‘‘filmic rock’’ or perhaps ‘‘augmented rock’’. Sheehan himself admits to ‘‘ambient postrock’’.

The musician has racked up millions of YouTube views, and contributed scores to film and video. Saturday night’s music was not a departure from that work, but the album he was previewing, AQuiet Divide, is, he says, less narratively driven.

Nevertheless, the audience was invited to enter dream worlds created not just by Sheehan’s band, but with the aid of images projected on to screen veils hung towards the front of the stage and a light show that played around a large, suspended prism-like pyramid. The imagery was created with the help of Weta Workshops and provided some whimsical moments.

Playing this sort of emotionally exposed music is a risky high-wire act; one slip and there’s a tumble into a chasm of Enya. Sheehan avoids the pitfalls but perhaps his show didn’t quite draw gasps from the audience either. Compositions consistently swelled to a satisfyingly textured and layered soundscape, but also dissipated just a tad meekly at times.

A little more visceral bottom end would have been nice. On the songs when Sheehan found the upper end of the volume control, things began to warm up.

The Dunedin contribution was mighty. Soprano Sophie Morris added powerful vocal lines, while the always impressive Dunedin Youth Orchestra string section, under the baton of Anthony Ritchie, were well employed.

Sheehan is a clever engineer of sound, but a question might remain about whether the soundtrack can stand alone.

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