Cabin Fever Orchestra

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Graeme Cornies has been working in the arts since childhood.

For Graeme, a life in the arts might have been a foregone conclusion, having attended arts schools in both grade school and high school where he was surrounded by passionate, helpful teachers who encouraged him to take his own artistic ideas seriously from a young age.

Before having any musical ambitions of his own, he watched his mother make albums as a harpist, with evening rehearsals at the house, watching musical legends like Oliver Schroer stop in to wow everyone leading up to a big performance. He also watched his father, who wrote editorial columns for a local newspaper, turn his ideas in to a way to make a living.

By the time he was in seventh grade, he had already met some of the collaborators that he would continue to work closely with until the end of university – some of whom he continues to collaborate with today.

Around age 16 he started trading all of his summer job money for studio time, organizing various recording projects with hand-picked collaborators he admired. When a number of his older friends went to school for recording engineering, he was sure to hang out on campus – often happily being roped into a production students’ extra studio time. It was here that he met his future business partners from Voodoo Highway Music and Post.

Graeme went to school for music at York University in 2000, where he had his musical studies sidelined by one of the many strikes that have taken place at York. As the strike wore on and people began to leave campus, the ghost-town atmosphere began to set in. With what remained of his student loans, Graeme purchased some recording equipment and, once his roommate left, he turned his dorm into a make-shift studio of his own. For months he recorded something new each day, enlisting the help of his recording-engineering friends to help him understand why various things didn’t quite sound right to him. This bracket of time ended up being the foundation of his career as a composer.

In 2003 Graeme took his studies to the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, where he got to play in a number of steel pan bands and continue his studies on various instruments in a drastically new setting.

Returning home, he began to work as a freelancer, producing and recording albums with various artists and fulfilling his first musical corporate projects.

Around 2005 he joined forces with his long-time collaborators from Voodoo Highway Music and Post, and luckily, within 6 months, they landed a show that would keep the doors open for at least a calendar year. To Graeme – this was a dream. This was never-ending art-school. This was playing in a band that never needed to commit to one single sound or the wear and tear of endless touring. It allowed him and his fellow musical co-conspirators to play in the musical sandbox every day for more than a decade and a half, honing their skills as the gigs kept getting bigger and bigger. The team-work at Voodoo helped them complete finished scores on timelines that would have been impossible for any single composer, and the silent arms-race of always trying to out-do one another on each new pitch, kept everyone musically growing. Voodoo Highway, to him, has become a sort of vocational art school he still feels lucky to keep attending.

Over the past 15 years Graeme has been lucky enough to work on more than 40 television shows, some of which made more than 100 episodes. His work covers the gamut too. He has scored documentary features on BBC and National Geographic, contributed to Triple AAA games and, along with his writing partners, has become one of the worlds most heard composers – most well-known for their work on hit TV shows like Paw Patrol, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and the Total Drama franchise.

The last five years have brought multiple awards from both SOCAN and BMI – recognizing their musical reach both domestically and internationally. Many of Voodoo Highway’s shows have received Emmys, and recently, Graeme and his writing partners took home their second Canadian screen award at the 2020 virtual CSA gala.

Cabin Fever Orchestra is an art project that began in 2016. It has been the passion project, taken up at every available opportunity, when not writing for immediate televisions deadlines. It has been a means of exploring new musical palette ideas, expanding on orchestration ideas Graeme found while working on other visual media, and it has served to expand his network of talented instrumental collaborators. This marks Graeme’s first album release since the release of Patchwork, an album of earnest, passionate indie rock from his former band Us and Others.

Cabin Fever Orchestra, while often considered “classical” in instrumentation, is anything but. While there is some crossover, Graeme has mainly drawn inspiration from the musical vocabulary of the generation of film and tv composers he has been a part of. Cabin Fever Orchestra isn’t trying to preserve the tradition of classical music whatsoever – but rather, it is a project that has an eye toward breathing new life into music with a similar instrumentation. The mass-collaboration of the orchestra can survive past our own cultural interest in the orchestral classics. The success of orchestras around the world playing film, televisions and game music live to sold out audiences speaks to this cultural hunger.

One of the first listeners commented that “it’s more akin to a pop record from an artist that just happens to play orchestra”. This hits the nail on the head. That was the intention. Classical music has been plagued by social posturing related to wealth and status. The academia around classical music has reinforced this. Cabin Fever Orchestra has none of these ambitions – rather, the project aims at creating something new, something for people of every social status, with an intention toward creating interesting musical soundscapes and indulging in vague musical story-telling. The listener might hear a moment of adversity, a moment of hope, a quiet calm, or the payoff of something long hoped for. That’s the intention – for the listener to feel along with the music as it takes you on a voyage of sorts.

Unlike most orchestral recordings, Graeme didn’t want this record to sound like something performed at a distance on stage. He had his mind set on the idea that we should take advantage of every recording opportunity to contrast the epic nature of certain portions of the record with close and quiet intimate moments – best realized with a variety of recording techniques unavailable in most live situations. There are moments where the orchestra sounds truly panoramic, but also, moments quiet enough to hear clicking of the piano keys and the lift of a foot off of the piano pedal.

Graeme continues to admire and take inspiration from artists like Olafur Arnalds, Johann Johannsson, Rhian Sheehan, Alexandra Stréliski, Jonsi, This Will Destroy You, Two Steps From Hell, Brian Tyler, Audiomachine, Lindsey Stirling, Jon Hopkins, Hammock, Thomas Newmann, Hans Zimmer, Harry Gregson-Williams, Daniel James, Clint Mansell and Tycho.

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