Madeleine Cocolas is a post-classical ambient sound artist and composer based in Meanjin. She's released three full length albums, composed for film & TV and has also worked as a music supervisor on Emmy nominated shows such as Please Like Me and Dance Academy.
She has spent extensive time overseas in the industry, collaborating with artists, curators, dance choreographers and designers.
"I think I’m someone who is quite ‘goal’ oriented in that I often need to set myself particular projects and goals to work towards, rather than just letting the creativity flow and seeing where it takes me. I feel like the best music I write is when I have set myself a particular project and I work towards that project.
For example, the intention behind writing Ithaca was to write an album to process my feelings about moving home, Metropolitan was about writing an album about the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cascadia was about writing an album documenting my time in Seattle, and Lunar was about writing an EP using NASA sound samples that had just been released. I feel focused and energized when I know what I am working towards."
"I think slower music is a style that has always resonated with me. I love lots of different music and of course not all of it is slow, but music that slowly expands and contracts really attracts me.
I grew up on a steady diet of synth music (think: Vangelis, Mike Oldfield, Jean Michelle Jarre) and also loved Philip Glass from when I was a kid, and these styles of music sometimes require some level of patience when listening.
Over the years I have had a growing interest in ambient and slower format music and I am interested in the way people hear and listen to music differently. For example, some people view ambient music and sounds as ‘background’ music, which is totally fine (I don’t believe there is any correct way to consume sound), but I am increasingly interested in learning how to listen more deeply and I think that is translating into the music I write and listen to."
Working in music overseas
"Personally speaking, my time overseas is just so hard to put into words. I made some incredible friends and I had so many key life moments occur in Seattle (getting married and having our first baby) and also NYC (having our second baby).
From a professional perspective it was just as important. When I moved to Seattle, I was leaving my music supervision job which was really hard to do, and I started from scratch in terms of ‘what am I going to do with myself’. Although I’d been writing music for years, I’d never considered it to be a serious pursuit of mine, so it was a huge transition mentally and professionally when I decided to put my head down and really start building a career in composition.
By the time I moved to NYC I was comfortable saying “I’m a composer”, which now doesn’t sound like a big deal, but being able to overcome imposter syndrome and being comfortable with myself felt like a huge achievement. Also in NYC, you can say something like “I’m a composer” and it’s just not a big deal as there are so many creative people there and careers in creative industries are openly accepted."
Meanjin music scene
"I was part of the Brisbane music scene in the late 90’s through to the late 2000’s and honestly, it was really thriving!! I was in a bunch of indie and funk bands as a bassist and keyboardist, and the valley was a hub of activity.
Lots of weekends were spent seeing bands or playing at The Zoo, The Troubadour and Rics. Since I’ve come back I have different musical interests, so it’s hard to do a strict comparison, but it looks like some amazing new venues have opened up and I’ve absolutely loved immersing myself in Brisbane’s more experimental music scene.
Dots+Loops always put on incredible shows, as do Made Now Music and Oscilloscape. It seems like there are a ton of incredible musicians in Brisbane with a fantastic DIY ethos which is brilliant and absolutely necessary."
"When I start on a project, I usually record my ideas from the very beginning, so I actually will start by having either Logic or Ableton open (I used to be only a Logic user but now I use both). I’ll then record some improvised tracks and see if something sticks.
If I like the sound of something, I’ll save it as a new file and keep working on it. I often find that it’s the second or third idea I start working on that is the one that ends up being used. If I want to significantly change something I’m working on but I’m not sure about it, I’ll save it as a new version of the same project."
"I loved working on Metropolitan. I was living in NYC at the time and visiting The Metropolitan Museum of Art as much as I could (it was a few blocks from our apartment).
Once I locked down the concept (which was that I was going to chose 9 artworks from The Met and base an album on those artworks, with each track relating to a separate artwork), the next step was asking my software engineer partner to write software that would analyze the artworks and produce midi information that I would use as the basis of the individual pieces.
The most challenging part was making sense of that midi information and using it in a way that made sense to me and was also aesthetically connected to the artworks (from my perspective). With pieces like Riley and Rothko, I was able to write them in few days because my vision for those was so clear, whereas the Kolarova, Pape and Keifer ones took weeks and months to get right. It’s my love letter to The Met."
"Listening back on Ithaca now is really comforting to me even though it was written during a time that I found pretty difficult. As I was writing it I didn’t know how I would feel afterwards, but looking back now I feel proud that I was able to process all those emotions and funnel them into an album that I’m proud of. It felt like therapy at the time, and when I listen back now it feels like therapy still."
Film, TV, Music supervision
"Working as a music supervisor in Melbourne was an amazing job. It was a mixture of perseverance and good luck that helped me break into that industry. I feel like people really downplay how much luck has to do with things, but I like to be very open about it. I was very lucky.
Before working in that job, I was working in the legal industry (ages ago I was a lawyer), so I had a good understanding of contracts and license agreements which is an important part of the job, and I also had a pretty strong background in music, having played in a bunch of bands in Brisbane and Melbourne and also having a Masters of Music Composition by that point.
I actually didn’t know what a music supervisor was until I stumbled across the company Level Two Music in a google search and saw that they negotiated putting music into TV shows and films and I just thought, wow I really need to try to get in on that! I wrote to them telling them how much I was interested in working for them, and it took about 2 years of me occasionally checking in on them for a role to pop up, which is where the perseverance comes into it!
I took that opportunity with both hands and ran with it so that before too long I was music supervising my own shows, two of which (Dance Academy & Please Like Me) ended up being nominated for international Emmy’s which is an incredible achievement for everyone who worked on them."
Writing for theatrical performance
"I absolutely LOVE working with choreographers! I think the connection between music and dance is immensely powerful and I am always in awe of dancers. The process for writing music for dance performances depends on how the choreographer likes to work.
I have worked with some choreographers who have already created the dance movements and then I try to fit music over the top of that (they may have been using temp music), and I have also worked with a choreographer where we were progressing the work together, so that I would send her bits of music and she would send me bits of dance, and we really collaborated to create a vision together rather than either one of us necessarily taking the lead. Some choreographers also prefer to have the score already finished so that they can use that as a template for their piece. The process can be very fluid."
On the horizon
"I’ve got a few projects I’m excited about on the horizon! I just finished an album which I’m hoping will be released on vinyl next year, and I’ll have a solo EP coming out later this year. I have a collaboration with Chris Perren called Magic City Counterpoint and we have just finished an EP which should also be getting released later this year, as well as a collaboration with Marike Van Dijk called Flightless Birds Take Wing. I have a remix and long format single coming out shortly and I’m working on a short film soundtrack. So plenty to keep me busy!"