5 questions to Madeleine Cocolas (composer)

At the beginning of 2013, Seattle-based composer Madeleine Cocolas made a resolution to write one piece a week for the entire year. The resulting project, “52 Weeks”, is documented on her blog and SoundCloud page, where listeners can hear Cocolas’ compositions and follow her progress from week to week. Over the New Year holiday, Cocolas took a short break from writing music to discuss “52 Weeks” and her compositional process.

Tell me about the story behind 52 Weeks. What inspired you to start this project?

I was working as a Music Supervisor in Melbourne, Australia (which involved sourcing and licensing music for TV shows), when my husband unexpectedly got offered a job in Seattle. We made the decision to move over to the States, but I initially wasn’t allowed to work in Seattle (for boring visa reasons), so I knew that I would have to make my own opportunities while living here.

Madeleine Cocolas

Madeleine Cocolas

I’ve been composing music and playing piano most of my life, but up to now it hadn’t been something I pursued seriously. I decided that it would be the perfect time to compose seriously and as a full time venture, but I knew I would need to construct some goals for myself, partly for self-discipline, and partly so I didn’t feel overwhelmed. I fairly impulsively decided to write a piece of music every week for 52 weeks, and promptly set up a blog to track my journey and a SoundCloud page to post my pieces every week.

Composing one piece a week for an entire year is no small task. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve tackled since beginning 52 Weeks?

The project has taken a lot of personal stamina and motivation, and (thankfully) I didn’t think through the amount of effort involved before I made the decision to embark on the project. Some weeks I find it really hard to sit down and write a piece, and it can feel a bit like a chore especially if I’m struggling with writer’s block. I often end up scrapping the first idea I come up with and end up using the second or third. Overall though, I have found that once I get my negative thoughts and procrastination out of the way, the writing part mostly falls into place.

Another one of the biggest challenges I have faced is finding the balance between ‘perfecting’ a piece of music and finalizing it for the purpose of the project. It is really important to me that each piece be able to be listened to and judged on its own merits, and I don’t use the weekly deadlines as an excuse to produce a sub-standard piece of music. It is also really important to me to not feel like I’m churning out music for the sake of it, because at the end of 52 Weeks I want to look back and have a body of meaningful music I am proud of, and that I feel stands up by itself regardless of its context.

Though each piece in 52 Weeks is a small gem that can stand on its own, is there a broader message or sentiment that you hope to convey through the entire 52-piece cycle? What does this body of work represent to you?

There isn’t broader message I am trying to convey through 52 Weeks, and my hope is that people can enjoy the project either by following each week, or by dropping in to my SoundCloud page every so often.

However, on a personal level, the project proves to me that I was able to turn a potentially difficult situation (i.e. giving up a job and a life that I loved, and moving to Seattle) into an opportunity to dive head first into something which I’ve always wanted to do, but probably have been a little afraid to.

Now that you’re nearing the end of 52 Weeks, how have you grown as a composer since the start of the project? Has it changed your creative process or the way you approach music?

52 Weeks has most definitely changed the way I approach music. I feel that 52 Weeks has allowed me to explore different musical ideas, and has helped me to define my musical style. Also, because of the volume of music I have been writing, I have explored areas that I had otherwise shied away from, such as incorporating my voice as an instrument and trying out different production techniques.

On a very practical level, this project has also made me realize that I am most productive when I have goals and deadlines to work to, and I have been surprised by how much my productivity has increased by the deadlines I have imposed on myself.

What’s next for you after 52 Weeks? Do you have any other musical projects in the works?

My next project will be to release an album based on pieces from 52 Weeks. I’m going to pick my favorite pieces, then rework, remix and master them. Even though they have all been written as individual tracks, I think they will work well in an album format.