Last Friday night I had the pleasure of going to The Basement near Circular Quay in Sydney to hear Zoe Keating play live. Her support act was another cellist, Raven (aka Peter Hollo of FourPlay fame), while they both played cello and used technology to record and playback loops thus layering the sound and turning themselves into a group, the music they played was very different.
Raven was first, obviously, and had simpler equipment for the layering so there was less depth perhaps but that’s by no means a criticism. His music was quite varied actually; some of it was melodic with a good rhythm – which he lay down by tapping parts of the cello – while some of it was, to my ear at least, quite chaotic in terms of the melody. Some of those parts got a bit away from me but overall I enjoyed his performance greatly. It was also amazing to watch him experiment with the sounds he could create – he used the bow, tapped with the bow, strummed like a guitar and strummed the strings vertically. You can listen to his music at his bandcamp here.
Zoe did most of these things too (and even shook the bridge of the cello to create a drum-like sound in her Segue to Mad World) but mostly stuck to traditional playing methods, with some tapping to lay down percussion tracks in the feed. There are many more layers to her works though – she has the necessary equipment of course – and a more consistent sound too.
It was really interesting to hear her talk about the music as well. To me her pieces are very transportive, I can see fantastic landscapes – windswept plains and forests – and I wondered as I listened just where her imagination and creative spirit goes when she’s composing. Turns out landscape does play a big role in it, the title of her album Into the Forest is no coincidence and she spoke of the beach nearby as inspiring another piece on the album.
Another interesting point she made was about how she composed. One of her early works she called TetrisHead because it was about the mind-state she enters when composing, where she has these pieces and strands of music in her head that she then pieces together, layering them into the works we hear. That she can juggle all those pieces in live performance like that is simply remarkable. She has to not just keep track of the part she is playing, she needs to manipulate which layers are looping at the time, all of which have to be in synch so her timing must be impeccable, and with no errors. A mistake in the live playing may be over in a moment, but when laid down and looped it occurs over and over with echoing problems through the piece, making this style of playing an impressive feat unto itself. That the music is so evocative as well is testament to Zoe’s artistic spirit. If you haven’t heard her play I strongly suggest doing so, possibly starting with this video of her playing live, to see how she’s doing it. And this is her bandcamp.