Happy Monday all! & it’s another musical Monday here on Robert Frost’s Banjo, tho I am taking the week off from the Monday Morning Blues—I like to mix things up just a bit! & in that spirit, I’m presenting you with some music you may not know but I think you’ll find intriguing. That’s the music of cellist Zoë Keating, whose second album Into the Trees was released in June.
It’s a wonderful album, simply put—a series of 11 soundscapes with richly layered sound, gorgeous melodies & harmonies & shifting rhythms—& such rich layering is possible because Ms Keating has constructed multiple tracks, so that she becomes a one-woman cello orchestra. As a studio production, this would be impressive in itself—however, Zoë Keating is able to reproduce these performances live by simultaneously playing two instruments: her cello & a MacBook Pro. In the second video below, Ms Keating explains her looping technology in an interview with Wired. Suffice it to say that Zoë Keating’s compositions are all of a piece, from the melodic lines to the percussive effects.
The compositions themselves are the kind of music that seems at once familiar & completely fresh—the music one might hear in a dream—you believe you know it, & yet in the light of day, you realize you’ve never heard anything quite exactly like it, it seems, too, both ancient & modern. This is “classical” music, for all its indebtedness to more contemporary sounds—but classical music that could be comfortable in any number of surroundings—from concert hall to dance club.
The music is also narrative in the best sense of the word—it moves us to different points on an emotional spectrum while all the time leaving space for our own; they allow for stories without insisting on them. Another way of saying this is that Ms Keating’s music is like the river that’s changed each time you step into it. It shouldn’t be surprising, given this characteristic, that Zoë Keating has also composed several film soundtracks as well as ballets.
Listening to music that’s built on a looping foundation, like Zoë Keating’s or that of guitarist Matt Stevens, puts me in mind of one of my favorite jazz artists, Rahsaan Roland Kirk. It’s not that the music itself—the melodies, harmonies & rhythms—are similar, but that Kirk, like these performers, was literally a one-man orchestra. Because of his mastery of circular breathing, he could play three wind instruments simultaneously. Some dismissed this as gimmickry, but to me, Kirk was the proptype one-person orchestra—different than a one-man-band in that the overall effect becomes symphonic—tones melded together in a harmonious whole, yet distinct in themselves—tones that create a complex aural vision.
Ms. Keating’s album (as well as her first album, One Cello x 16: Natoma) are available from her website, both as an actual cd & as digital downloads; her music is also available on iTunes. Hope you enjoy “Escape Artist” (the first video below) & stick around to listen to Ms Keating’s interview with Wired (also set to her music!)