Field Trip: Zoë Keating at The Triple Door

by Jeffrey Rusch

“I wanted to be lost in this beautiful organism of sound.” – Zoë Keating

It’s a funny thing about dreams and aspirations. Listening to Zoë Keating talk about her childhood aspiration of being both a conductor and lost somewhere in the cello section of an orchestra it occurred to me that she had, in a way, accomplished both of those goals through her music. In one sense, she was both composer and conductor, regulating speed and dynamics of the sound she produces with the use of her cello, MacBook Pro and assorted software. In the other, she is – as her album is titled – “One Cello x16”: a complete cello section with one instrument and a bow. It spoke to the power of naming your intention to the universe, and then being open to seeing opportunities to realize that dream when they arrive. Sure she couldn’t really been both a conductor AND a member of the cello section in the traditional sense of an orchestra – it’s physically impossible – but I would argue she one up’d both of those individual goals to mesh them into something truly unique.

Tonight’s show was at my favorite Seattle venue, the Triple Door and opened with my favorite song “Fern” from One Cello x16. At which point I was totally ruined for an impartial review. In addition to “Fern,” we heard “Exurgency” and an evolved version of “Frozen Angels.” Keating then moved on to songs from the new album “Into the Trees:” first “Escape Artist,” then “Lost” and “Optimist.” One song featured a performance of an aerial dancer who choreographed a trapeze routine that fit so tightly to the song that it was hard to believe the two pieces of art had been created separately. She closed with two covers, “Time is Running Out” (if you haven’t seen the video of her performing this in the SFO terminal, rearrange your YouTube playlist at once) and an adapted piece of Beethoven piece. Her encore was an improvisation based on some sounds she’d been working on.

The laptop, or rather software, hung up once, necessitating a restart mid-set, but otherwise I was struck by how seamlessly and unobtrusively the laptop and technology fit into the performance. Once an a while I would remind myself there was only one cello on stage and that a large part of the fullness of sound was due to the computer generated loops controlled by foot pedals, but most of the time I was just swept up in the sound. To put it simply, what Keating does with her cello and software is astounding and inspiring. I think it’s all too easy these days to decry how technology has taken away from imagination and creativity through things like CGI and video games. I love seeing technology used to produce and enhance artistic expression in exciting ways.

But what I love most about live music is listening to artists talk about their songs and process. I learn a lot from people whose creative process I admire. Here were my three top takeaways from the shows:

1. The only thing that will cure stage fright is playing in front of others. Start small if you must, or if you’re like Keating, try playing a different type of music (her stage fright vanished if she played rock or improvised) until you wear that beastly sweaty palmed monster down.

2. Don’t be afraid to dream big, even if it seems improbable or your dreams seem very disparate from one another. Give the universe a challenge in fulfilling them if you must, but don’t sell yourself and your aspirations short. One thing Keating taught me is that it is possible to be the conductor/composer and a cello in the section (or a whole cello section) for that matter, simultaneously.

3. Listen to your mistakes. Mistakes can give you important information about what’s really going on (vs. what you think should be going on). At worst, they teach you where you have a problem so you can work it out, at best they can be an indicator that your subconscious might be onto something better than your conscious mind’s intended outcome.

The only “downside” to the show – if you can call it that – is that since I often listen to Keating’s music while running, on the way home I was tempted to hop out of the car about five miles from the house and run the rest of the way. Not too shabby.

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About Eddie

Watch what happens when you give a writer a cello.
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