A passionate designer of visual image and sound, Australian composer Melody Eötvös tells us about her nouveau approach to composition.

Black and white profile picture of Composer Melody Eötvös
Composer Melody Eötvös

How did you become a composer?

I come from a very musical family, and I grew up with music around me 24/7. My mum is a piano teacher and my dad is a conductor, composer and arranger, so getting involved in music was almost inevitable. As a child I played piano and cello, and the composing part came about simply because I was terrified of performing!

Every composer has their own unique way of getting music down on paper, how do you approach composing?

I find that singing helps me to write melodic lines. I will double check melodies at the piano and then throw them into the computer. I have a lot of different ways of creating musical material, but I always use Sibelius for typesetting.

Many of your works combine visual and audio. Do you have these images in mind before you create the music?

It goes both ways. Many of my earlier works would have been music before I added visual, but lately I often have an image in mind as a subject before I start a piece. The process behind finding the perfect image can be painstakingly long; I have to find the perfect match! I absolutely love visual image, and my husband is a photographer which is immensely useful. I think that pairing the two is really important. If people aren’t so inclined with details about the music I find that having some sort of visual gives them an indication of what the piece is about in a different way.

We don’t want to ruin any surprises, but could you give us some hints about the piece that Momentum Ensemble will be premiering?

The piece is based on an Indigenous Australian legend about Tiddalik the frog, who woke up one morning and greedily drank all of the fresh water, with no thought for anybody else. The land turned to desert and all of the other creatures started to suffer, so an eel called Nabunum tied himself in funny shapes to make the frog laugh. When he did, the water rushed out of him to replenish all of the rivers and lakes.

The work combines visuals, an audio track and a live chamber orchestra. For the majority of the piece the audio is very uncluttered, which should offer the orchestra some freedom in their playing and interpretation. There is one very rhythmic movement that requires much more precise timing, so that will provide some contrast.

The visual is made up of small tiles, and I’ve found some interesting videos of the desert to include in the foreground. There’s a lot of water too, but I won’t say too much more!

Do you think attitudes towards female composers have changed?

When I started composing, I didn’t feel like I had to compete with males in the industry. We’ve actually got it really good compared to female composers from years ago! I think the main difference nowadays is that much more notice is being given to the difference in numbers, and there’s a lot more focus on the programming of works by female composers, which is really great.

Momentum Ensemble will premiere Melody’s new work, Nabunum’s Water, on Monday 4 September at the National Gallery of Victoria.

In the meantime, check out Melody’s composition House of the Beehives for acoustics, oboe and flute.