only magazine

↵ home

Marco Melanson

Marco Melanson

By Cameron Reed

Friday December 15, 2006

Skateboarding, boybands and classical composition

Marco Melanson is a 30-year-old Acadian classical composer from New Brunswick who has been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (AS), a lighter variant of autism. A few years ago I was introduced to Marco’s basic HTML website dedicated to promoting his music.

This Geocities time warp is home to a myriad of his compositions from as early as age nine, all of them in midi format and accompanied by notes reflecting on the inspiration and background for each robotic symphony.

The website also features Marco’s autobiography which is extraordinary in itself, not because it’s well-written or richly detailed, but because of Marco’s ability to convey events both significant–such as his parents divorce–and mundane–such as his hatred of Eminem–with the same passion, honesty, and self-reflection.

Same but different from the madness and creativity of Daniel Johnston or the innocence of the Shaggs, Marco is self-taught but completely proficient at reading and writing music. He is not, however, at all adept at playing piano. All of his compositions are created on computer by placing the notes into a sequencer’s staff with a mouse–an arduous task by any account.

Keith Hamel, a professor of composition and director of the Computer Music Studio at UBC, suggested that despite Marco’s limitations, he has such skilled ability to absorb the music of classical composers that “one might be convinced that short sections of Marco’s compositions could have been written by Mozart or Beethoven.” Although the music is synthetically emotional (slow, fast, etc) and wanting of originality, it is completely inspired, but only in a way that Marco could explain.

His autobiography weaves from things like inabilities to socialise and cruel teaching assistants to his first crush on a French Canadian pop singer. His crushes transform into complex religions with their own holidays and calendars that govern his life. His religion Pelletierianism was so strict that it forbid him to take his medication. His religions are also fantastic worlds where imaginary longhaired superhero-like figures would be his protectors. He often deliberates over what he enjoys and comments on his competing interests as if they were mutually exclusive and racing for his approval (or as if he was racing for theirs). At one point during his depression at university he claims, “I felt like I was being forbidden to like Backstreet Boys and New Kids On The Block just because I was a student in a French university.”

People diagnosed with AS have a tunnel vision-like obsession for their interests. They only can maintain one or two serious interests at a time and for Marco, this is exemplified by the way he defines the chapters in his life by his crushes-cum-religions: the Pelletierian era, Simardian era, the Boyband era and, most recently, the Skateboarder era.

Marco always returns to his compositions, though. They seem to be the only constant in his life. They are beautiful but mechanical. Maybe if fully realised on piano his music could reach more people. But for now his imagined struggle with pop artists contending for his love and his real struggle living with AS has created a very interesting story, complete with soundtrack.