Janet Roddick is best known as a vocalist. She has sung jazz, opera, and classics from the songbooks of Kurt Weill and John Lennon. She can also channel the sounds of magpies, and the unearthly screeches of the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings. So it makes sense to assume her main contribution to Wellington musical trio Plan 9 would involve using her voice.
The truth is more complicated. Asked about her contribution to the Plan 9 soundtrack team, Roddick says “I like composing and playing. I am pretty good at the computer stuff, solving issues, new gear ... not so interested in recording specifics like where the microphones go. I think I am the one most into the detail of the finished product, so I tend to go over things before they go out the door for the final mix. Plus I like a good spreadsheet.”
The Plan 9 trio of Roddick, David Donaldson and Steve Roche have worked together on soundtracks for roughly 20 features, including Predicament, Antarctica: A Year on Ice, Second Hand Wedding and What We Do in the Shadows (for which Roddick sang in Latin, after rearranging a piece by Italian composer Giovanni Pergolesi). Plan 9's television work includes kidult dramas Holly's Heroes, sketch show Newflash, and multiple seasons of the much-travelled show I Survived.
Known primarily for their singing (Roddick), bass (Donaldson) and brass (Roche), the trio began a habit of expanding their instrumental repertoire while playing in celebrated band Six Volts. It was the first time they all worked together. At that point Roddick taught herself trombone; she also plays piano, organ and indian harmonium. Theatrical and musically diverse, Six Volts appeared in pubs, cabaret and musicals. Since then, Roddick has done occasional acting roles on stage and screen (including short film Song of the Siren and TV's The WotWots). She also spent around five years as a presenter on radio station Concert FM.
Born in Hamilton, Roddick went to school in Invercargill. In 1983 she completed a music degree in singing at Otago University, then did another year at Wellington Polytechnic. Joining a diverse group of Wellington musicians known as the Braille Collective, she drifted from improvisational jazz into more crowd-friendly band Four Volts, which became Six Volts. Both sets of Volts thrived on humour and avoiding the obvious riff, despite the fact they specialised in cover songs.
Six Volts’ topsy turvy rendering of Dennis Glover poem The Magpies surely blew many young minds wide open, after they sang it to an enraptured group of puppet birds on TV3's Early Bird Show in 1989. It remains one of the band's only performances to go before the cameras; like The Front Lawn — who they recorded an album alongside — Six Volts' performances are better preserved on vinyl than videotape.
In the mid 90s, Roddick, Donaldson and Roche began composing for short films. After providing an impressive score for Peter Jackson and Costa Botes' Forgotten Silver, they won NZ film awards on their first two movies, Jack Brown Genius and Botes' drama Saving Grace. Since then the accolades have included nominations for a trio of Gaylene Preston-directed projects: Rita Angus documentary Lovely Rita, quake doco Earthquake, and movie Perfect Strangers (which also took away a gold at American soundtrack festival Park City).
Plan 9 have also carved out a fine line in offbeat black comedies, many directed by Tongan Ninja talent Jason Stutter. Stutter's adaptation of Predicament (2010) proved another soundtrack award-winner. It also saw them working for the first time with the NZ Symphony Orchestra.
Their documentary work includes the acclaimed Last Ocean (about the Ross Sea) and Animal Planet series Orangutan Island, one of a number of shows scored for Dunedin-based company NHNZ.
On the last two films of The Lord of the Rings trilogy Roddick's voice talents were a key element in the seductive, otherworldly sound of the Ring. Working with ex Six Volts colleague David Long, Plan 9 have also written a number of songs heard in Middle Earth (Later Roddick sang a number of them live, at the premiere of a Lord of the Rings Symphony.) ‘Misty Mountains’, sung by the dwarves near the start of The Hobbit, is one example. Roddick helped teach the cast to sing their respective sections of the song. Plan 9 and David Long also contributed two tracks heard prominently in 2009's The Lovely Bones.
On the acting front, Roddick starred in 1997's Song of the Siren, one of the earliest shorts directed by Fiona Samuel. She played a woman trapped by having to care for her ageing father (Desmond Kelly). The film won one of the top awards at a festival in Spain, and was nominated for best short at the Algarve International Film Festival.
She also provided the voice of the computer on preschool show The WotWots, and sings the opening theme. She appears briefly as a musician in short film Eau de la Vie and at the start of this clip from TV's Duggan: Shadow of a Doubt, and did voice work on animated short Egg and Bomb. Playing Elizabeth Cook, wife of Captain James Cook, she won acclaim amidst the lukewarm notices that greeted 2008 opera The Trial of the Cannibal Dog.
Having already dabbled with the music of Kurt Weill, Plan 9 and friends debuted live show The Songs of Kurt Weill in 2006, plus a tie-in CD. The Dominion Post called Roddick “superb”, while Lumiere writer Diane Spodarek praised her “perfect tone and control”, and the “fantastic” music, “at times elegant, sensual, and at times weird”.
The Plan 9 trio released two albums in the early 90s as The Brainchilds. In the same period, Roddick was interviewed talking about music in documentary Wise Women and Song.
Plan 9 Music website. Accessed 19 June 2014
The Plan 9 Interview website. Accessed 19 June 2014
David Eggleton, Ready to Fly (Nelson: Craig Potton Publishing, 2003)
Lyndon Hood, 'Arts Fest: The Songs of Kurt Weill's Janet Roddick' (Audio Interview) Scoop website Loaded 28 February 2006. Accessed 19 June 2014
Emma Neale 'something stupid' (Interview with Six Volts) - Salient, 23 July 1990 (Volume 53, Issue 17)
Diane Spodarek 'The songs of Kurt Weill' Lumiere website. Loaded 15 March 2008. Accessed 19 June 2014