Back in the idealistic days of my youth, I took part in something called National Novel Writing Month. For those unfamiliar with the concept, "NaNoWriMo" consists of wannabe writers forcing themselves to the rather daunting task of writing a 50,000-word novel, from scratch, in 30 days. (It's amazing the lengths amateur authors will go in order to make it past the dreaded blank first page.) Needless to say, I failed spectacularly, owing to any number of the excuses I told myself: I was working too many hours at my "real job," my version of Microsoft Word was hopelessly outdated, those DVDs of The Wire weren't going to re-watch themselves...
On the other end of the go-get-'em spectrum is Seattle-via-Australia electronic composer Madeleine Cocolas. After settling in South Lake Union with her techie husband a little over two years ago, Cocolas gave herself a musical mission: to compose and record a brand-new track, every single week, for a year. "I decided if I couldn't do it, I'd have to get a normal job," Cocolas says. While such a conceit may strike some as precious or gimmicky, the compositions themselves should silence any doubters. She not only managed to follow through—the resulting recordings are some of the most beguiling and gorgeously textured music to come out of Seattle in recent memory.
Straddling the amorphous border between classical, ambient, minimal, and drone music, Cocolas's 52 pieces offer an amazingly diverse, panoramic trip through sonic realms both welcoming and disorienting. When she lived in Melbourne, Cocolas had a job sourcing and licensing incidental music for Australian TV, and her soundtrack background comes through strongly in her work, which at times approaches the dystopian menace of John Carpenter's scores while resembling Cliff Martinez's synth-laden space oddities at others. She crafts her tunes with a setup that's downright minimalist by today's standards: two modest keyboards and a solid bank of samples to work with. If drum programming is required, Cocolas enlists the help of her husband, Greg, a trained drummer. Her compositions mirror the simplicity of her studio setup—generally just two or three elements playing off each other in subtly intersecting patterns: Chiming bells rub up against oceanic bass drones, skittering drums dance over protean synth washes. Though a sort of beatific, ethereal vibe ties the project together, the pieces run an astounding range of emotions and palettes given the condensed work period.
Given that the 52 Weeks Project constitutes her first solo foray as a composer, Cocolas has achieved an impressive amount for a young musician new to the city. It doesn't hurt that Seattle's going through something of an experimental-music renaissance, with forward-thinking clubs like Kremwerk and Q hosting nights devoted to highlighting the stranger side of electronic music. Cocolas got her start performing at Squall, Kremwerk's monthly showcase of Seattle's burgeoning noise and ambient scene, which inspired her to play out more often and foster relationships with other like-minded musicians—she recently worked with avant-saxophonist Kate Olson and has other collaborative projects in the pipeline.
For her live show, she recruits her husband for backup and forgoes laptops or loop stations, preferring the spontaneity and improvisation that comes from repurposing her material for the stage. She's also embraced adding her vocals into the mix after previously "hat[ing] singing," though she still bathes her voice in what she only half-jokes is "100 percent reverb." She's looking forward to bringing something a little different to venerable vegan metal bar the Highline, and has cosigned like-minded artists to the cause: IDM/shoegaze outfit Your City Sleeps and the ever-gigging electronica act Bardo:Basho.
For the immediate future, Cocolas is looking to compile a selection of her favorite tracks from the project to put out as an album. "It's a way to close out this period and focus on new things," she says. Speaking of which, someone, somewhere, has arbitrarily decreed that February is Album Writing Month, in which artists "write an album in a month, alongside a collaborative community of musicians (worldwide) from all walks and skill levels." Sound familiar? The intrepid Aussie is already planning for it. After all, making an album in a month is chump change.