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Zoë Keating: Doin’ it her way

by The Concordian November 8, 2011
Zoë Keating: Doin’ it her way
Armed with a cello, MIDI foot pad, and a computer, unsigned and independent cellist Zoë Keating has been changing the way people view her instrument, and classical music in general, for that matter.
“I’m taking part in the natural evolution of the cello,” Keating said, her excitement even shining through the telephone line. “I think everything evolves, and when things stop evolving, they die out.”
Her debut album One Cello x 16: Natoma (2005) reached No. 1 on iTunes’ Classical chart and took the No. 2 spot on the Electronic chart. Her cello playing is featured on the soundtrack for The Secret Life of Bees, as well as many others, and she’s worked with the likes of John Vanderslice and Imogen Heap. And with 1.3 million followers on Twitter, there’s little sign of things slowing down.
Contrary to some artists and record labels who slam iTunes, Keating jokingly admitted that iTunes paid for her new home. “It’s my regular paycheque!” she exclaimed, adding that, “iTunes is incredible because it allows independent musicians to have a broader reach―it’s like Wal-Mart!”
Despite her overwhelming success as a solo musician, soundtrack composer, collaborator, Independent Music Award winner, and information architect, she says she’ll never take it for granted because even if her career is going well, the music industry itself is always changing.
“The thing about being a musician is that things can be going well for you one day and not the next,” she said.
Her liberal arts education at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York helped her adapt to the climate of the industry.  In fact, she credits it with shaping her entire life.
“It taught me how to be critical,” she admitted. “How to think and write critically and get a larger perspective on things, which applies to everything. If you are confronted with a new experience, you have the tools to figure it out.”
Those tools helped her deal with the demanding workload at Sarah Lawrence.
“I didn’t have a computer when I was in school,” she said. “I mean, this was in the ‘90s, so I would type all my papers on this old typewriter. I would write the whole paper, then cut up each sentence and stick it on my wall. I would organize and edit, sort of like cut-and-paste, until I had a final version that I was happy with.”
This cut-and-paste method ended up playing a significant part in her musical writing process of using live sampling, looping and repetition to layer different tracks, and using her cello, foot pedal and computer to create stylistically complex compositions.
“I layer these musical pieces and then assemble them like a collage,” she explained. “The process of making a final piece is more about removing, rather than adding, so I take away and polish off layers until it’s done.”
But this is not to say that music has always been a smooth road for Keating. In her youth, she battled with crippling stage fright. While many musicians force themselves to get over this fear by performing on the street, Keating’s busking experience helped her in a way one might not expect.
“I started playing the cello in the subway station during rush hour,” she recalled. “And I realized that nobody was paying attention to me, which gave me the freedom to perform music without being self-conscious.”
Ultimately, her breakthrough came when she realized that she didn’t feel as nervous when she was improvising, playing as she went, as opposed to playing something that was already written.
“I needed to allow myself to make mistakes and learn that music doesn’t need to be perfect,” she admitted. “I go on a musical journey and I want to take the audience along. I want people to forget about time. As a society, we’re so defined by it, but when you listen to the music and you get completely immersed in it, you can forget about time and be taken out of your everyday experience into a completely new experience.”

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1 comment

RSmithlal November 11, 2011 - 10:40

Zoe Keating is incredible, I went to her show on Tuesday night with a few friends and it was absolutely mind blowing. She’s such a sweetheart, really down to earth. It felt just like a friend jamming, very organic and not at all like most shows I’ve gone to. I’m proud to support such an amazing person.


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