LIVE: Zoe Keating @ The Egg, 10/13/12

Review by Timothy Cahill

“Avant-cellist” and composer Zoë Keating does not perform in the normal sense of the term, playing a single score through from start to end. Rather, she collaborates with the limitless voices she creates on her instrument, inventing textured scrims and bursts of sound which are recorded and looped through a computer, layer on layer in harmony and accompaniment. On the stage of the Swyer Theatre at The Egg, she did this in real time, an Apple laptop and foot-controlled multi-track switchboard her ensemble, multiplying and replicating herself in music dense with complex dialogues, echoes, shouts and replies…

Keating performed a dozen pieces, drawn mostly from her 2005 debut album One cello x 16: Natoma and that work’s beguiling 2010 follow-up, Into the Trees. The concert also featured unrecorded compositions from an album in the works, as well as “scraps,” as Keating called them, and a bit of Beethoven.

Keating’s art draws equally from the patterned language of classical music and the free-range exuberance of pop songs. Her aesthetic is one of spectacle and ceremony, of aspiration, verge, turbulence, transcendence. A passage or figure was recorded in performance, then instantly played back through the computer as beat, root, feedback, pattern, continuo, counterpoint, polyphony, discord.

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This process was repeated with a new phrase, then repeated again, in mounting, densely textured layers. Seeing this process unfold live left the listener suspended between the immediate past and rapidly changing present. Time was disrupted, concentration oscillated, a trance of sound descended.

A brief clip: With the heels of her hands, Keating thrummed on the waist and shoulders of her cello, making it murmur at the touch. Looping this hypnotic tattoo, she then pulled the bow in long, slow strokes across the bridge, bending the strings with her passionate left hand, coaxing the instrument to reveal its secrets.

Keating called her compositions “songs,” and indeed they do have a lyric grammar, a syntax, a spoken structure and rhyme scheme — a poetics of texture and timbre. They suggest the mystery of conjuration and hard toil of prospecting. At The Egg, themes were engaged, echoed, enhanced, enlarged. They faded, returned or didn’t return, recurred as they had been or appeared renewed. There were no explanations, no explications, no extended motifs. The songs were at once assembled and spun. Like dreams, they followed unfixed forms, with abrupt shifts, dislocations, cutaways, close-ups. Now I was lying in lush ferns at midnight, now beside my beloved on her pillow, now holding my hat before a howling surf, now waiting in a room of north light, now listening to rain on a roof, now skipping stones. The effect was by turns surreal, ironic and heroic.

SECOND OPNIONS:
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union
Excerpt from Geraldine Freedman’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Of the 13 or so songs that she played, some, like the opening ‘The Sun Will Set’ and ‘Frozen Angels,’ were mesmerizing and peaceful. Others, such as two songs that were works in progress, had darker tones, Celtic or Indian rhythms, more growly rasps and pluckings in the bottom range. Some of these sounded a bit too much alike, as certain rhythmic patterns kept showing up. One of the best was ‘The Path 2.4,’ which had a catchy, almost jazzy rhythm — something she hadn’t played all evening. Overall, her music was more about rhythm than melody and seemed like an exploration of sound for sound’s sake. Based on what comments could be heard before the concert from what appeared to be a very eclectic crowd, people were there out of curiosity, or were ‘total fans’ or were lovers of cello.”

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