In this series, we present our new composers. We are proud to introduce Michaela Cornelius.
Please tell us about yourself and what you do.
I am a whimsical composer with a strong background in sound design and video game music. Currently, I work full-time as a Caption Producer at Able. My BA/BMus at the University of Auckland led me to explore and test the boundaries of randomly generated compositional material and its impact on the compositional process. In 2017, I was awarded a Summer Research Scholarship to research the compositional process in the context of randomly determined criteria. Eventually, I’d like to combine the psychology of creativity and compositional theory to further understand and explain the creative process.
Currently, I’m intrigued by the euphoric release in post-rock, the materialism of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, and leading a minimalist lifestyle. When I am not dreaming of flying with dragons, I look forward to spending a night at a pub quiz or playing board games with friends. Ask me about my modest collection of dragon artwork if you ever want to pique my interest.
Please choose 2-3 of your works/albums and tell us about them.
Tension, hesitancy and introverted expression – Lilburn’s Impression, for piano trio, intentionally expresses an intricate personality. It has become quite a personal composition to me as it reveals characteristics of my personality that I’ve often struggled to accept. The recurring melodic theme symbolises the desire to express oneself and one’s ideas, but the result is a warped, dysfunctional expression held back by fear and self-doubt.
The inspiration for Lilburn’s Impression was taken from writings about Douglas Lilburn’s personality and compositions; in some ways, I connected with the way his works were self-descriptive. Recording this piece was my first time working with performers, and it was a really rewarding experience hearing the piece being brought to life.
Hauntingly beautiful, yet seething with deep-seated regret and isolation – this is what the poem evoked and what I strived to create in this piece arranged for seven-part vocal ensemble. The poem was written especially for this composition by my dearest aspiring pessimist, Azul Alysum, and expresses a juxtaposition of beauty and terror. The poet and I share a love of dragons, and this was the theme of the poem, though the word ‘dragon’ is not mentioned. Whilst I was composing this piece, I was particularly aware of the parallels between dragons and endangered/extinct species; primarily, that the destruction of both is ultimately a result of humankind’s violence and inconsideration for their environment, and that these animals take on a mystical, almost reverent status.
The piece explores the ebb and flow of tension through the lens of a magnificent yet forgotten creature; tension builds up but dissipates before it can reach a climax. There are stark moments of contrast created through the blocking of textures, e.g. moving from overlapping phrases to a full unison. I learned a lot from this piece about considerations to make when composing and performing a cappella works, for example, how performers find their notes in the context of unconventional harmonic progressions. However, I also discovered that beautiful moments can occur when seven unique voices are brought together.
Autumn was drawing to a close, and winter was creeping in. I witnessed the leaves of a tree transform to the most exuberant oranges and reds, only to lose its glory in the span of a few weeks. This short-lived natural phenomenon struck me as so beautifully tragic and became the programmatic inspiration for the piece:
Gods and mortals alike
Welcome Autumn’s return
For who could resist Desire’s fire
and a slow, peaceful end?
Autumn’s Return, a piece for solo guitar, is quite reflective in nature, and it allows the performer to undergo the meditative experience that occurred when I composed the piece. It was the result of a research project which explored randomly generated composition practices, using dice to determine notes and note lengths of melodies. Using brief sections, it blurs moments of improvisation, randomly generated material, and crafted composition in a way that the audience cannot determine where the performer’s and composer’s roles end and begin.
What are you working on at the moment?
Currently, I’m creating sound effects and music for a space adventure mobile game. The game itself is quite abstract, with puzzle components and, as such, the sound effects I’ve created are more ambient than literal, e.g. explosions and death sounds are quite gentle and reverberant. The music can be described as laid-back electronic, and the game developer and I are experimenting using layered music that reacts to the player’s progress in the game. It’s been a rewarding experience working alongside artists and a game developer and seeing how art, sound and game mechanics all interact together. We are hoping for the game to be released by the end of the year. Last year we released a playfully spooky game called G’Night Teddy. It’s available on the App Store and Google Play.
I’m also co-composing a soundtrack for a visual novel/survival-type game, One Year of Apocalypse, to be released on Steam. The soundtrack is inspired by games such as This War of Mine and The Last of Us. A lot of the tracks are based around guitar and piano. Here’s an example of one of the mood tracks, uncreatively yet practically named Happy.
How can people connect with you?
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