Shoot­ing a per­fect score

Rhian Shee­han is hit­ting the road with a col­lec­tion of in­ti­mate tracks – a world re­moved from sound­tracks for theme parks and alien-zap­ping vir­tual-re­al­ity games.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - By James Belfield

Rhian Shee­han is hit­ting the road with a col­lec­tion of in­ti­mate tracks.

Your mis­sion, should you choose to ac­cept it, is to write a spy theme as catchy as the Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble tune. Oh, and can you time it so that the au­di­ence fol­lows this sto­ry­line as they go around this roller­coaster, too? As briefs go, the one that landed on Kiwi com­poser Rhian Shee­han’s desk cour­tesy of Fer­rari World in Abu Dhabi was a stand­out. The re­quest was for an or­ches­tral score for a spy-themed roller coaster in a theme park that’s al­ready home to the world’s fastest ride and that’s look­ing to com­bine im­mer­sive Hol­ly­wood block­buster spe­cial ef­fects with a lead­ing car brand in its lat­est at­trac­tion.

But this is all in a day’s work for the 42-year-old. As a com­pos­ing “gun-forhire” based in the heart of Wel­ly­wood sub­urb Mi­ra­mar, he’s amassed an eclec­tic CV that in­cludes mu­sic for huge plan­e­tar­ium shows (the most re­cent, We Are Stars, is voiced by Andy Serkis) and art in­stal­la­tions (he helped trans­form Auck­land Mu­seum into an ice­berg).

Most re­cently, he’s done the mu­sic to ac­com­pany an aug­mented-re­al­ity game, Dr Grord­bort’s In­vaders – pic­ture your­self wear­ing a head­set and shoot­ing aliens in your front room – that’s based around a steam­punk in­ter­plan­e­tary ex­plorer char­ac­ter cre­ated by Weta Work­shop. The game fea­tures the voices of Stephen Fry and Rhys Darby, and is due out this year for the Magic Leap One vir­tual-re­al­ity gog­gles re­leased last month.

It all seems a far cry from the per­sonal work of a man who started “noodling around” with elec­tron­ica in his late teens, re­leased an am­bi­ent al­bum, Par­a­digm Shift, in 2001 and has just com­pleted his fifth stu­dio out­ing, A Quiet Di­vide, a col­lec­tion of in­ti­mate, emo­tional tracks that rely mostly on strings and piano.

“Yes, some of these scores I’ve writ­ten, if you had only heard my al­bums, you wouldn’t recog­nise as my work at all,” he says. “This game sound­track, for ex­am­ple, that I’ve been work­ing on for two years is im­pe­rial and bom­bas­tic and all a bit ab­surd. And those plan­e­tar­ium films are quite dif­fer­ent again, with big at­mo­spheric synths and a child-like Harry Pot­ter­ish score.

“But it’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent way of writ­ing mu­sic, and I like to be thrown in at the deep end. The mu­sic for the game has to in­ter­act with the ac­tions of the play­ers so you’re con­stantly writ­ing adap­ta­tions of themes that are dy­nam­i­cally dif­fer­ent. That can be quite over­whelm­ing, be­cause you’re not writ­ing for some­thing that’s lin­ear.”

Strangely, for some­one who can seem­ingly com­pose to or­der in any num­ber of dif­fer­ent styles, start­ing A Quiet Di­vide proved quite dif­fi­cult.

“When I first sat down, I had writer’s block and felt I had noth­ing to say with my own mu­sic – and that was hugely frus­trat­ing.”

But af­ter he set­tled into gen­eral feel­ings of “nos­tal­gia and re­flec­tion”, the tunes and melodies started to flow and he’s cre­ated a stir­ring al­bum – one that cer­tainly draws on his cin­e­matic work but is, at the same time, nat­u­ral and hon­est. We Danced Un­der a Bro­ken Sky, for ex­am­ple, ebbs and

“It’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent way of writ­ing mu­sic, and I like to be thrown in the deep end.”

flows like a John Wil­liams film score and Soma’s Dream was named by his five-yearold daugh­ter, Soma, be­cause, well, she said it sounded like her dream.

“It’s re­ally hard to think about my process be­cause I try to avoid that when I’m work­ing. If I over­think things, then noth­ing seems to come out.

“A lot comes from ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, and I love writ­ing. But I had just fin­ished a score for a short doc­u­men­tary on the Sa­hara [ The Mau­ri­ta­nia Rail­way: Back­bone of the Sa­hara] that’s now on Na­tional Geo­graphic and that style is prob­a­bly my favourite son­i­cally to write and it just comes out the eas­i­est.

“That be­came the start­ing point and the chords and melodies and the rest of the tracks would come to­gether after­wards.”

His other in­spi­ra­tion for A Quiet Di­vide was the de­sire to play the al­bum live, so he’s sur­rounded him­self with Weta pro­fes­sion­als – in­clud­ing boss Richard Tay­lor, who help­fully works with Shee­han’s wife, Raashi Ma­lik – to cre­ate what’s in­tended to be a fully mul­ti­me­dia ex­pe­ri­ence. No roller coast­ers this time, but plenty of an­i­ma­tion, light shows and time­lapse space pho­tog­ra­phy, cour­tesy of The Art of Night pho­tog­ra­pher Mark Gee.

His set-up will also be the largest he’s played with live and in­cludes string sec­tions, an eight-piece band (in­clud­ing Ma­lik on piano) and promised “spe­cial guests”.

“Much of my work can be iso­lat­ing and lonely be­cause it’s not like I’m be­ing flown around the world to ac­tu­ally go on this roller coaster,” he says. “I spend so much time in an iso­lated en­vi­ron­ment, just beat­ing my head against a wall try­ing to get these ideas out, that it’ll be nice to be around some mu­si­cians and play these tunes to peo­ple.”

Rhian Shee­han will be tour­ing his mul­ti­me­dia ver­sion of A Quiet Di­vide to Dunedin Town Hall, Septem­ber 29; Michael Fowler Cen­tre, Welling­ton, Oc­to­ber 12; Nel­son The­atre Royal, Oc­to­ber 20 & 21; and Q The­atre, Auck­land, Oc­to­ber 26 & 27.

Cin­e­matic scope: Rhian Shee­han. Left, Dr Grord­bort’s In­vaders.

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