This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of watching experiencing Zoe Keating perform live in Buffalo, New York at a really cool venue -- Asbury Hall. Ani DiFranco (another amazing master of emotions) bought this old church and spent years renovating it so that it could be used for the arts. The resulting setting is intimate and magical.
I am a big fan of Radio Lab -- a podcast produced by WNYC and easily accessed via iTunes. There was an episode back in 2008 where they explored the notion of alternative universes -- quantum physics if you will, and as part of this -- there was a short piece called Quantum Cello. The featured artist that captured my imagination was Zoe Keating.
Zoe is an "avant cellist" -- that is, she's not a traditional string musician -- relegated to only classical music. She is a one-woman orchestra combining technology with her cello to allow her to create nuanced, layered, worlds of sound. She does things with the cello that you don't see. She taps it, bangs it, sliding her fingers up and down the strings -- she makes it wail.
Zoe shared how she organically created worlds of sound by laying down tracks of music, then accompanying herself. Each time she plays, the sound is slightly different and she needs to adjust her interepretation of her own music depending upon how the previous track was played. It's really a fascinating concept -- and a real treat for anyone who visualizes the sounds she hears in her head.
Now about 3 years ago, my son, John-Luke, decided to join the school orchestra. He is still learning but I can hear his heart in what he plays. He feels the music deeply. Last year, on a long trip down to visit family in Virginia, I shared the Radio Lab podcast with him -- and he -- like me -- was mezmerized. Shortly thereafter, I downloaded her music from iTunes and the two of us became obsessed.
You can listen to it yourself -- click here to go directly to Radio Lab to download the podcast.
Hearing Zoe on your stereo is one thing. Watching her perform her magic live is another. Halfway during the concert, my son decided to use his iPod to tape her. He has been trying to recreate her compositions in a crude way -- as he doesn't have the software or foot pedal controls needed to create loops. Zoe does not write down her sheet music -- so if you want to play her compositions, you have to study her. Watching JL recreate some of what he hears and watching him get inspired to write his own music makes me beam with pride and joy. One thing that frustrates him about playing cello is that the instrument is often just used as a base layer -- the violins and other string instruments get to play the real melody. What Zoe taught him is that the cello can sing, and he, too, can use it to share his voice and his vision.
She's so much more than a musician. She's so kind and smart -- and those qualities ooze from her during her performance. We were fortunate to get to talk with her for a few minutes after the show. I honestly can't wait to find a way to bring her to Syracuse in spring. I think all the music students from the area would feel her creativity seep into their consciousness by spending an hour with her. And anyone who loves music owes it to himself to listen.
Take a look at this video about how she expresses herself through her music and you'll be hooked too.