My first time hearing the Zoë Keating was truly ethereal. The “one-woman orchestra” completely transcends this world with her music.
She uses a cello and a foot-controlled laptop to layer and loop her instrument. Beginning her classical training at the age of eight, the Canadian born artist continued to play cello ever since. Her early 20s saw a period she dubs her “detour;” during this time Zoë worked as an engineer at a tech startup and simultaneously "moonlighted as a cellist in rock bands."
Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, the “100 percent DIY” artist is her own engineer, producer, distributor, and booker. Apparently just as astute a businesswoman as a musician, she’s garnered the number one spot in iTunes classical and electronica several times.
I’d agree with Zoë’s hesitance towards genre; her music is more experiential than a specific type of sound.
“I want to capture that feeling of being an outsider, of being outside and looking in," she said. "I like to think of it as the musical equivalent of looking around from a hilltop perch.”
She names "Sun Will Set" and "Legions (War)" from her "One Cello X 16 : Natoma" album as the best examples of her style and process.
“They demonstrate how I try to make musical epics out of small repeating fragments of cello,” she said
Epic sounds about right.
The ambitious woman considers challenge and struggle “an important part of [her] artistic process” – and she definitely has her hands full. Expecting a baby in May, another self-released album is due this month.
She is also working on the score for a ballet to premier in August and a multimedia performance project that is going to involve “cello-controlled visuals.” What?! Okay, total nerd-tastic awesomeness.
Zoë’s SXSW highlight? “A spontaneous #cellotweetup on the sidewalk.” Beyond that, the experience as a whole also seemed to really resonate with her:
“I had a realization at SXSW that 'we' the musicians, are the music industry," she said. "It sounds obvious, but I think musicians are always looking for someone to save them, to discover them, to make it all happen. Maybe that was true in the past, but it isn't any more. Now, we can design our own careers and bypass the crumbling establishment. But in order to do it, like-minded artists need to be helping each other rather than competing.”
Even earlier, peeking at Zoë’s Twitter page post-SXSW, I could tell that she was truly excited and inspired after the experience (I believe it was her first trek out for the festival).
As an avid appreciator of independent artistry and the innovative and fresh perspective music like Zoë’s brings, seeing such a response from her (along with similar responses from other attending musicians) left me with a pretty powerful feeling of awe and inspiration myself.