The Opera House, Wellington
Saturday, November 2
It was a one-off performance and for those in attendance it will be burned into the mind; a perfect amalgam of music and images – helping Sheehan this time to make the movies in his mind come to life was a dependable crew of stalwarts so crucial to his sound (Jeff Boyle of Jakob, Raashi Malik of Rhombus, Steve Bremner, Andy Hummel and Jane Pierard) and there were some newer helpers among the nine-piece band – and this time there was a 16-piece Orchestra Wellington component; a crucial addition.
The stunning visuals, time-lapses of NZ landscapes and starscapes – a strong prod of ecological message at times, in other spaces a meditational drift and pull – were so often the perfect accompaniment. Beamed out onto a big-screen backdrop while underneath, with nary a scurry, the musicians worked to seamlessly pull in drifting pieces from Sheehan’s Stories From Elsewhere and Standing In Silence albums; we’ve had Standing In Silence as a live show before. This was something else – another level; next level.
Sheehan makes music that moves people – that has the intensity, pathos and beauty of haunting slow-motion film sequences; that has the joy and spiritual/philosophical centre of classical works and the deepest, most powerful film scores. It’s as if from the block of sound he works, a sculptor, careful and wise, to chip away just what he needs; to leave only what closest resembles the feelings and thoughts that went into the creation. To see and hear these works performed live is to get as close to the actual inspiration as possible – to get as close to inspiration.
Stories From Elsewhere features guitars that rock out at times, whilst that signature slow-moving tonic is there; it’s as if Max Richter was commissioned to rework Mike Oldfield’s Ommadawn at times. And if that’s not conjuring something wonderful then I can only apologise for a confusing comparison.
I heard bits of Helios and Jean Michel Jarre, Oldfield and Thomas Newman, Richter and Craig Armstrong. But through all of that – around all of that, inside all of that – I heard the music of Rhian Sheehan. And as it blended with the images you could almost see the music; you could see the work the musicians were doing, all calm and collected but still working hard in pursuit of perfection. They achieved that – but they achieved something more, a profound musical/visual experience. Cast and crew worked so well to translate the thoughts and feelings and notes from Sheehan’s mind and soul. And it touched people. It was flawless and beautiful. It seemed to offer wisdom and certainly hope.