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Meet composer
Kirsten Te Rito

Please tell us about yourself and what you do.

I learnt piano from age six and play a little guitar, but voice is my main instrument. I'm really into creative vocal production and have spent a fair bit of time diving in to a rabbit warren of plug-ins and techniques and learning ways to create different vibes both live and recorded.

I work mostly from home when i'm not on tour or gigging with the bands i'm in. I've spent the last ten years building up our home studio so we can work on tracks and record whenever we want. In saying that the home studio will forever be a work in progress that i'll keep adding to or selling off bits we don't use.

When i'm writing at home I usually start with a storyline. Then I put down a bunch of lyrics and ideas on my computer and edit, edit, edit - until i'm happy with the form. It usually happens pretty quickly with just tweaks after that. When i'm producing the music the DAW I work in is Logic, although i'm learning Ableton as I can see it's benefits, especially in a live setting.

I've received a number of Waiata Māori Music Awards over the years, been a finalist a NZ Vodafone Music Award twice and a finalist for a APRA Maioha Silver Scroll.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I'm working on two projects. The first is getting out my new five-track EP - Te Kaitiaki, and making music videos to accompany two of the tracks.

The other project I'm working on is a new electronic music duo called ILLRIOT with my husband, James. A lot of my inspiration for this project has come from photography. I really enjoy taking close up shots of objects eg. flowers, landscapes, rockpools etc. and firing my brain to look for a metaphoric story or inspiration within that image.

During the lockdown, we've also been creating percussion/drum samples using the beach across the road from our family bach in Māhia as our muse. Did you know you can make shaker sounds by tap-dancing on shells!? Ha! We also found a hollow piece of driftwood and recorded some excellent kick drum type sounds similar to an 808 and using a smaller stick, got some cracking snare sounds amongst other things.

Please tell us a bit more about the title track Te Kaitiaki on your new EP Te Kaitiaki. What inspired the song?

I got the idea for this waiata from a surreal experience I had on Te Horo beach on new years day a couple of years ago. I was with my husband and my two sons. The boys were busy looking for driftwood, James was sitting up by the sand dunes enjoying the view. I found a big stick like Gandalf's staff in the Lord of the Rings and headed down to the shore. It was a stunning afternoon, the waves were huge, and there was a lot of whitewash. I decided to sing some waiata and karakia to Tangaroa for the coming year. When I had finished, I drew a big circle around myself and dug the stick into the sand. As I turned to face the ocean again, standing quite still in front of me in the crashing waves was a huge black seal. We both stood there, staring at each other for a few moments. At the time it felt like Tangaroa heard had heard my call! That experience sparked the story behind my new track, Te Kaitiaki.

How did you approach it?

I had an idea about how I wanted it to look visually before I had composed lyrics or music. I envisioned the story continuing on with me and my family following the seal underwater to meet Tangaroa and all the creatures of the ocean. I knew it would have to be animated illustrations. I imagined it to be a fun gathering with a party vibe so I decided to go with instrumentation that would reflect my kind of party! Modulating synths, a funky bass line and some shiny vocals.

I wrote the lyrics in English and asked my cousin Joseph Te Rito help me translate it into te reo Māori.

Musically it went through a few different arrangements until I settled on this one. Myself and my husband, James Illingworth, worked together on it, using lots of different synths and electronic music production techniques. It was made in the box at our home studio in Wellington.

What's next?

Next for this project is the video. It's being made by a friend of mine Nikora Ngaropo, who has worked on some incredible films. I'm sure that he and the people he works with are going to bring the magic and I can't wait to see it all come to life!!

After lockdown ends, what are you most looking forward to?

Big family gatherings - especially with my Mum, her husband Dave and my big boys who live in Australia and all the extended whanau. And of course, performing some live shows with a live audience!

How can people connect with you online? 


Kirsten Te Ritonew EP - Te Kaitiaki