12 Jul 2021

Plan 9's first album - 35 years in the making

8:19 pm on 12 July 2021

Last year's lockdown saw the virtual closure of our film industry for months, and no films meant no film music.

Plan 9: (from left) David Donaldson, Janet Roddick and Steve Roche

Plan 9: (from left) David Donaldson, Janet Roddick and Steve Roche. Photo: supplied

But one group of composers turned the lack of outside work to their advantage. They recorded an album, inspired by life in a pandemic.

Plan 9 - Janet Roddick, David Donaldson and Stephen Roche - is one of our busiest and most versatile purveyors of music for film, TV, radio, theatre and ballet.

Their range has always been dazzling - they've supported indie films and shorts, they do the music for gigantic Discovery Channel documentaries and they have a long-term association with Peter Jackson - everything from King Kong to the Dwarf Song in The Hobbit. They also found time to produce the theme for RNZ's Morning Report.

So what happened when they felt like doing something for themselves for a change? The answer was a new album - their first, in fact - called The Bewilderness, which they describe as "something different", arising from the introspection of lockdown.

Simon Morris talked with Plan 9 about how their first album came to be.

"It was just such an opportunity to do something," Donaldson said. "Because we make music all the time, we hear tracks every now and then, I forget that we've even made it - like what is this? It's like, we did it, really?"

"I think we wanted to make something that was kind of acoustic and playable," said Roddick. "So we came up with the idea of a string quartet, but with double bass instead of cello."

The resulting "string quartet" consisted of two violins, cello and double bass, with Janet Roddick playing the harmonium and singing.

The group also enlisted Jonny Marks for additional vocals, who had trained for years in Mongolia to learn the traditional art of throat singing.

"He's a great singer but he's got that thread to his bow, that he can do this beautiful harmonic singing," Roddick said.

"One of the original concepts was double bass harmonics, harmonic sounds that the bass and singing could do."

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Photo: supplied

Roddick, Donaldson and Roche wrote lyrics for the album together - a change from their usual instrumental work.

"We weren't trying to make a whole set of songs, we were trying to make some music with some words sprinkled through there, because you don't want to say too much," Roddick said.

"So there's sort of a meditative and slightly introspective vibe going on there, little bit peaceful, little bit kind of 'what's happening here'."

The Bewilderness is currently out on Bandcamp and very soon on Spotify and Apple Music. Here's a video of a track The Big Sea.

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