A recent conversation with N. K. Jemisin made me realize that I have not been vocal enough about my love for musician Zoe Keating even though I’ve been a big fan for over four years. She’s one of my go-to artists when I need writing music that sets a mood or fades into the background just enough to let me work but not enough that I don’t actively enjoy it. Other than just loving the sound, I also geekily enjoy how Zeating makes music. It’s very techie.
The first time I heard Zeating’s music was on the RadioLab podcast titled The Quantum Cello, and that’s how I think of her stuff: quantum music. Using MIDI recording tools and a laptop, Zeating overlaps repeating phrases to create multilayered music all from the same instrument. It’s hard to grasp how awesome this is when listening to a recording because it’s easy to create layered music in a studio. Keating does it live. She records each phrase as she plays it, then the laptop repeats it back (controlled with a petal) while she plays and records another bit. The layers build and build into ever more complex interactions. Watching this happen in real time is more amazing than I can recount.
The other thing I love about Zeating’s music is the wide variation of sound she gets out of a cello. There are several tracks where, if I didn’t know better, I would swear a piano or a whistle or a flute was involved.
The only sadness with being a Zoe fan is that she doesn’t produce new albums all the time. Her last one, Into the Trees, came out in 2010. Before that she put out two EPs in 2004 and 2005. I can’t very well complain since she’s a label-less indie artist and thus can’t just spend all of her time composing new stuff for me (uh, I mean, for all her fans…). I am pleased to see her music getting attention all over the place. I started hearing it as interstitial music between news segments on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered a few years ago. The Elementary staff and producers love her stuff, too, and so her tracks are all over that show.
You can buy her EPs and album from her website or on iTunes. I suggest buying them all, but if you start with One Cello x 16: Natoma you’ll get a good feel for her overall style. If you listen to the EPs and album in order you’ll note that her music gets more and more complex as she goes on. It makes me excited for what she’ll produce next.