Zoe Keating
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Zoe Keating


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"NPR: Zoe Keating's Radical Cello"

Day to Day, December 9, 2005 · Zoe Keating has been playing the cello since she was 8. She grew up practicing hard every day to learn the music of classical composers such as Bach and Beethoven.

But she soon found the rigid structure of classical music too constraining, and just a little nerve-wracking. She suffered from extreme bouts of stage fright. Keating eventually conquered her anxiety, and at the same time made an unusual transition from performing classical music to electronically looping and modifying the sound of her cello.

The result was a distinctive mix of old and new -- layers of sound, pitched to octaves higher and lower than the original that feel more like orchestrations than a solo instrument. As a member of the band Rasputina, she pushed the concept further, taking on classical tunes with a modern twist and imbuing rock 'n' roll tunes with the warm, expressive sound of the cello.

Keating now has a new solo CD -- One Cello x 16: Natoma. She talks about redefining the traditional boundaries of classical music to reach a new audience.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5046348 - NPR - Day to Day

"A cellist's new love"

The Oregonion: A cellist's new love
By Tom D'Antoni

From oregonlive.com, originally published by The Oregonion Friday, November 24, 2006
©2006 The Oregonian. All rights reserved.

Zoe Keating has been cheating on Sebastian. Sebastian is her cello and has been with her since she was 12 and she began taking lessons in Albany, N.Y. Sebastian has traveled the world with her and is more than vital to her popular recording, "One Cello x 16: Natoma" which although self-produced and distributed, hit No. 2 on iTunes' classical chart.

Sebastian endured having electronics added and his sound looped and altered by computer, even being used as a percussion instrument. Sometimes he sounds like an entire string quartet.

But behind Sebastian's back, Keating has been shopping for a new instrument.

"When you go down the road to picking a cello, you have to start dating," she says. "You have to move in together, figure out if you're going to be compatible."

She tried out one. "He was a fun boy. He was a high-quality instrument, but he had a few flamboyant characteristics. There were things about him that I wanted to change. I wasn't willing to put up with the things that he had to change in order for me to tie the knot. That didn't work out and we separated," Keating says, laughing.

"Then I tried another cello, and it was the same thing. We were close, but it wasn't a very exciting relationship. We were going through the motions as a couple, so I stopped looking. As inevitably happens when you stop looking, the right cello appears."

A cello maker had been working on one for a year with Keating in mind. She met up with both of them in Italy.

"He was newly born, a green young cello, very handsome, very sexy. I met him, and it was love at first sight. He was a little awkward the first time but after four days together I knew that he was the one. When I played him I just had to touch the bow to the string and it's like, 'Laaaaaaaaaaaa.' "

Keating moved to Portland with her husband (and Sebastian) from San Francisco a couple of months ago. From her base here she has maintained a dizzying schedule of worldwide touring, recording and composing for films.

Cellos seem to be everywhere these days. "It's like a voice," she says. "When I'm playing, I can feel like the cello is my voice. I can say things with the cello that I can never say in words. If I was going to try to say in words the kinds of things I say in an abstract way in music, it would come out like Jack Handy."

She will pick up her new unnamed cello in Europe next year. - The Oregonian

"Requiem on Natoma"

SF Weekly: Requiem on Natoma
By Jennifer Maerz

From sfweekly.com, originally published by SF Weekly 2006-11-01
©2005 New Times, Inc. All rights reserved.

Zoë Keating: Have cello, will travel.
article link

In 2000, the Kronos Quartet and Clint Mansell created a soundtrack perfect for a movie about two steep descents into addiction. Requiem for a Dream was a CD as chilling as the story it scored, a film centered on a mother striving for prescription bliss and a son whose heroin habit is as ugly as his abscesses. Separated into three seasons, the album carried ominous undertones, strings sounding the death knell for the lives these characters were losing.

Cellist Zoë Keating has composed a requiem for a far less tragic event, but a soundtrack no less moving than Kronos' work. Her debut full-length, One Cello x 16: Natoma, pays homage to an experimental San Francisco performance space she ran with her husband and friends, 926 Natoma. For 10 years, the split-level warehouse was home to performances by everything from bands like Tarentel to field recordings (hosted by housemate Aaron Ximm Thieme) to adventurous electronic music (from her other roommate, John Eichenseer, aka Jhno). Using beanbags and beds for seating, tea lights for ambience, and a sliding scale for an admission charge, 926 Natoma brought together the fringes of the local music scene under one comfortably large industrial roof. That is, until the group was evicted.

"I felt like [Natoma] was a fight against the landlord," says Keating on a recent fall morning, sipping coffee at a SOMA cafe a couple blocks from her old living space. "We represented art and beauty and vitality, and we tried to convince him how great his space was and how much people were appreciating it as a music space." Her CD, recorded in a studio built into the warehouse, was meant to encapsulate the conflict at hand as well as the wars beyond her doorstep. "Every time you'd step outside our house, there would be homeless people and people doing crack, and so it felt like this real human struggle going on that our little eviction crisis was related to ... somehow. The music is all about that — Natoma is turmoil," she says.

Melancholy sentiment seeps into every note of Natoma, a disc of sublime minimalist music — "with a pop sensibility," adds Keating, who has performed on records ranging from DJ Shadow's latest to albums by Tarentel, John Vanderslice, the Court and Spark, and Michael Talbott & the Wolfkings, among others, as well as with cello-rockers Rasputina for four years (she's since left that group). Her self-released album, which hit No. 2 among iTunes' classical downloads and No. 3 in the site's electronica category, reveals Keating putting the cello she's owned since age 12 to various uses. Using live sampling and looping, she delicately layers the record with everything from percussion (knocks on the instrument's surface) to guitarlike rhythms to expressive melodies moving at a glacial pace. (When she performs live, as she will at 21 Grand in Oakland on Nov. 4, she uses foot pedals to control the tracks.) "It's like so many different art things," she explains. "You make a box for yourself and then you explore the contents of the box. I made a box that's cello-sized, and I couldn't go outside of it. I didn't process the sounds in any way."

Keating calls recording Natoma her "refuge from the reality that we might have to leave San Francisco" — and eventually she and her husband did leave, moving to greener warehouses in Portland, Ore., in March. But this isn't the first time her cello has gotten her through adversity. When Keating was a child, her family moved often, and upon resettling in the United States from England, playing helped her get over the culture shock. "The cello was the one thing that was a constant for me through all the moves," says the lanky, charismatic redhead. "It was this perfect world that I would retreat to, and it was just me and the cello, and I worked hard and got results. It was reliable. It was almost like a coping mechanism."

Practicing the cello also helped Keating get past a case of crippling stage fright that she caught in her early 20s. "I started playing the cello in the BART station," she recalls. "I'd play at the Powell Street or Embarcadero stations at rush hour." Running through all the Bach suites she knew, she was able to come to terms with having an audience — and make her rent with a couple days' work. "Eventually I was able to block out the people, because I realized that if anyone did stop it meant they were enjoying the music," she says. "That completely cured my stage fright."

Keating's most inspiring performance space remains the S.F. home she relinquished (which, she notes, still lies empty). "[The Natoma warehouse] was a pretty creative environment to be in," she says nostalgically. "I'm not sure that the record I made would've happened if it wasn't for that space — it was kind of like my cla - San Francisco Weekly

"Portland Mercury: Weekly Pick"

Portland Mercury

From portlandmercury.com, originally published by Portland Mercury 2006-11-09

Zoe Keating is one of the cello playin' ladies of Rasputina whose recent concept record, Rasputina Turner, takes old Tina Turner songs and gives them the gothy Raspu' work over. Just kidding. I actually have no idea what Rasputina is up to but I know good and well that Keating's solo cello excursions are a real pleasure. Half classical music, part experimental ambient, Keating should not be missed. Mark it down. Right now. Y'know that calendar spot that reads "Monday, Nov 13"? That's the one. Fill it in posthaste and take no more appointments. - Portland Mercury

"Up and Coming"

Portland Mercury

14 Dec 2006

by Josh Blanchard

I think that if the musicologists and super scientists of tomorrow are able to match the frequency of the human soul to an instrument it will certainly be the cello as no other natural tone can hold a candle to its deep, stirring resonance. Cellist Zoe Keating would likely agree with me as she's devoted her life to pushing the boundaries of her instrument. Formerly of chamber goth band, Rasputina, Keating's solo album, One Cello x 16, is elegantly haunting as it gracefully walks the line between ambient and neo-classical forms. Cello-centric instrumental band, Bright Red Paper is a prefect foil for Keating at this night of intimate winter music. - Portland Mercury

"CS Monitor: An Orchestra of One"

By Teresa Méndez | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Whenever Zoë Keating takes the stage, her hefty jumble of red dreadlocks pulled back from her face, a tangle of cords reaches like tentacles out of her cello. Her accompaniment: a small table supporting a rack of high-tech knobs and blinking lights, all connected via the cello's electronic appendages.

None of this is what you'd expect of a classically trained musician. Yet it's the sound she produces that may be most surprising.

Using multitracking, which lets her record and play back more than one cello track at a time, and looping, or repeating a portion of the recording, Ms. Keating layers cello sequence upon cello sequence, forming what can sound like as many as 16 cellists playing at once.

While it isn't new, this electronic technology is more often used in pop and rock than classical music. But Keating and virtuosic classical bassist Edgar Meyer have each tapped into it as a means of essentially collaborating with themselves: she through live performances and a 2005 album, "One Cello x 16"; he on a CD to be released this month in which he alone plays and records six instruments ( it's aptly titled "Edgar Meyer"). The result is music that conveys the complex sounds one expects of an ensemble, not from solo musicians.

Before arriving at this more unusual type of collaboration, both Keating and Mr. Meyer have had long and fruitful relationships with other musicians. Keating has recorded two albums with the cello-rock group Rasputina. And Meyer, a MacArthur "genius" award winner, is known for being equally comfortable on a concert billing with classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma as he is playing an outdoor festival alongside bluegrass banjoist Béla Fleck.

But they both wanted a little more freedom. "When I started writing my own compositions, initially I wanted other musicians to help me play them," says Keating. Yet she found herself struggling to translate her ideas. What she was looking for, she realized, was someone who could improvise along with her. And that's "a lot to ask of a classically trained musician," she says. "But someone not classically trained was not an option because they don't have the technique." So Keating, who through the '90s worked as a computer programmer and saw this as a technical sort of problem akin to to designing a web page, decided her "efforts were better spent seeing how [she] could play all the parts."

Meyer wanted something similar: room to meander. "With several people working on something, there's a limit to the detours you can take," he says. It also made sense for his instrument, the double bass. "If you just throw a bunch of instruments together, the bass is not going to be the one that stands out."

David Finckel, co-artistic director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York, where Meyer performs regularly, suggests there's more to it: "Only one person in the world can do on the bass what Edgar can do, and maybe every once in a while he needs some musical company." (That, of course, would be himself.)

Deserved or not, the reputation of classical music is that of a traditional art form in opposition to technology. In fact, electronic technology has been in use by contemporary classical musicians at least since the 1950s when such composers as Pierre Schaeffer experimented with multiple turntables and mixers.

"It started first in these avant-garde circles," considered a part of the Western classical tradition, says John Mallia, director of the Electronic Music Studios at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music. Then it "made its way to pop music and, funnily enough, it's making its way back to classical music," he says.

Still, when most people think of classical music, they envision orchestras performing live or else hewing as closely as possible to a live concert for a recording.

From a small basement studio at the New England Conservatory, filled with many thousands of dollars worth of electronic equipment and padded with black and red soundproofing and diffusing foam, Mr. Mallia says he's being approached more and more by student musicians interested in learning about the possibilities of electronic music. His course, required for composition majors, has been only an elective for performance students.

Of course, neither Keating nor Meyer's work can be neatly pegged as "classical." And the debate about what actually constitutes contemporary classical music seems endless - but, actually, neither musician seems terribly interested in engaging the discussion.

Others before Keating and Meyer have tried self-collaborations with varying degrees of success. Jascha Heifetz's recording of both violin parts of the Bach Double Concerto in 1946 was probably "the first time such an audacious thing was tried" by a classical musician, says Mr. Finckel. This year, the Emerson String Quartet, with whom he plays cello, won two Grammys for their recording of all - Christian Science Monitor


One Cello x 16 (EP)
One Cello x 16: Natoma

Other recordings:
Rasputina - Frustration Plantation
Rasputina - Radical Recital



Zoë Keating is a one-woman string quartet. She creates "sublime minimalist music with a pop sensibility" (SF Weekly) by using live electronic sampling to layer the sound of her cello,
A former member of the cello-rock trio Rasputina, Zoë has worked with Imogen Heap, Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls, John Vanderslice and DJ Shadow.

"sublime minimalist music with a pop sensibility" – San Francisco Weekly

"...a distinctive mix of old and new -- layers of sound, that feel more like orchestrations than a solo instrument. " - National Public Radio

"...combines cello and a looping laptop in a hypnotic cocktail. "- San Francisco Chronicle

“Keating's solo album, One Cello x 16, is elegantly haunting as it gracefully walks the line between ambient and neo-classical forms.” – Portland Mercury

Zoë has been featured on NPR's "Day to Day" and her music has been heard in television commercials, public television, documentaries and dance productions. Zoë's self-released album "One Cello x 16: Natoma" made it to #2 on the iTunes classical and electronica charts in 2006.

Zoë recently composed and recorded a musical score for UK director Adam Mason's horror film "The Devil's Chair". Also, Jane Treay's documentary "Aged 12, and Looking After the Family", which aired on UK Channel 4 in January 2007, and "Frozen Angels", which premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and was best documentary winner at the Nyon Festival and Toronto HotDocs.

Zoë has performed her music across North America and Europe, including 4 tours as support for the Grammy-nominated artist Imogen Heap. She has appeared as a guest artist on the recordings of a variety of artists, including Tarentel, Rasputina, DJ Shadow, Charles Atlas, John Vanderslice and the French pop group Dionysos. From 2002 to 2006, Zoë was a member of the cello-rock ensemble Rasputina, founded by Nirvana cellist Melora Creager. With Rasputina, she toured the US and Canada countless times and recorded two albums (Frustration Plantation, Instinct Records, April 2004; A Radical Recital, May 2005).

Born in Guelph, Ontario, Zoë began her musical education in England and went on to study cello at the Eastman School of Music Preparatory, Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and the Scuola di Musica di Fiesole in Italy. She lives in a redwood forest north of San Francisco and is currently working on a new album.