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Review: Metropolitan by Madeleine Cocolas

1 January 2019

Australian born composer Madeleine Cocolas returns with her second album, ‘Metropolitan’ and has made a miraculous transformation of visual inspiration into a diverse and compelling collection of tracks, based off artworks housed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Artfully conceived and composed, this album was made using custom software used to analyse nine artworks Cocolas felt a strong resonance with, and the resulting material was woven together with piano, synthesiser and vocals. 


Diving immediately into the abstract with opening track ‘Rothko, No. 16’ we are met with a smattering of electronic sounds, like pulsating fragments of birdsong, swooping, diving and ricocheting, before a held synth is joined by pulsing textures whirling over the top. It is bright and enchanting, like a digital sonic rainforest alive with smaller sounds while bigger sounds tower overhead. The track builds and thickens, becoming brighter, until the colours overlap together into white. 


Starkly different from the preceding track, ‘Pape, Picture 1953’ is dark with fast pulses of synth, eerie voices and glitchy chimes and a loose arrhythmic feel. This aleatory bricolate of sounds flickers through a wide range of timbres with unpredictable sense of disquiet and danger. Following on with ‘Riley, Blaze 1,’ brightness returns with this Lydian kaleidoscope of rapidfire synth, which is gentle yet relentless. Joyful and carnivalesque, the sounds are crunchy, and textural, juxtaposed against glassy and gleaming sonorities. 


‘Pollock, Autumn Rhythm No. 30’ is a spellbinding sonic re-imagination of abstract expressionistic style that is nothing short of remarkable in capturing both the visual, and the intellectual spirit of an artistic movement. Drips of sound are woody and metallic with xylophone and glockenspiel, and they spill out in scattered, erratic patterns against a background of colourful, angular piano jamming with double bass. 


Next comes a piece of immense, unforgettable intensity, ‘Motherwell, Elegy To The Spanish Republic No. 70.’ Pounding, thumping rhythms feel deep and primal, like a black hole of sound. Then comes a much softer feel in the next track, ‘Hartigan, Blue Bathers’ with its slightly muted, muffled piano. Broken chords play out in unusual, asymmetric patterns with spaces in between as ripples develop in this slow sonic unfolding.


From here, we move to ‘Kiefer, Astral Snake’ with wind and crackling sounds mingling amongst the whirring oscillation of synths, like radar. A low, held, brooding bass holds the ground against a mirage of blurred treble melody that slowly meanders in gentle strobing dissonance. ‘Kelly, Spectrum V’ is a bouncy closed circuit; cantering along with synth beats that skip along in a sustained, slow evolution.


Finally, ‘Kolarova, Letters From Portugal’ rounds out this album with a feeling of floating underwater with its droning cycles and little whispers of high-pitched synth. With a thread of buzzing noises that is woven through, sounds poke out and become more prominent before fading away, with a constant sense of upward motion.


It is safe to say that the greatness of the works hanging in The Met has been done justice by this gorgeous sound response to visual stimulus. The way sound is used to create evocative sensations that translate into visual experiences in the minds eye is just stunning. There is a clear relationship between each song and its corresponding artwork, and indeed a strong connection between each song in the collection; a masterstroke of editing and interpretation – or perhaps ‘curation?’

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