Music Review: Zoe Keating – Into the Trees

Classical music has found a place among modern music, manifesting as strong string solos among synthesized drumbeats or classical composition interlaced with glitch transfusions. At times, these hybridizations result in highly memorable and musically valuable studies in modern electronic music. One such musician, Zoe Keating, helps introduce the listener to a unique and utterly distinct brand of music.

Since age eight, Keating grew up playing classical cello in Canada, honing her skills and becoming fluent in writing pieces with the instrument as an adult. In her twenties, she worked for a software company in San Francisco, where she began using her technical skills to develop a means of layering pieces of cello together as a means of musical expression. Described often as avant garde, Zoe preferred the independence of rock music as a child, often wishing that classical music took inspiration from these genres. As a musician today, Keating has effectively blended the two stylistic differences into a complex and fascinating experience.
Upon first listening to “Into the Trees,” a listener cannot easily decide how many cellists are playing at once; at times, it sounds as if there are five, maybe six musicians playing together in each track. However, each and every track is written and performed by Zoe Keating alone – a feat that is not unnoticed when listening to the quality and depth of the music. Each track has an individual personality; some pieces are moodier, with sparse, high notes that give a feeling of foreboding and danger. Other tracks give the impression of vibrance, emotion, and energy. The creative range within which Keating works produces music of variety and immense volume. Each piece is made compulsively listenable as the stiff, perfectionist ideations surrounding classical music are laid aside for more creative, spontaneous expression. Notable tracks include “Flying and Flocking,” “Optimist,” “Don’t Worry,” and “Seven League Boots.”
Most impressive of her talents is her ability to recreate the sounds of other instruments with only her cello. Keating has often employed the use of microphones along points on her cello so that she can amplify percussive sounds, namely drumming, played against the bridge and belly to add to her music.
However, Keating’s live performances far outclass her recorded work. in 2010, Keating performed for ABC RN, an Australian radio show, showcasing her ability to spontaneously edit her work as she plays. For example, the recorded version of “Optimist,” a song written for her son, pales in comparison to the passion and heart with which she plays the live version to the radio audience. The momentary expression of each thought is masterfully laid against the strings and leaves the listener in awe. Needless to say, no two renditions of her work are the same, and Keating has expressed that she prefers her music to vary each time she performs.

“Into the Trees” is a wonderful introduction to Keating’s work. Each track plays as a different musical expression and creative approach. Modern electronic music today often employs repetitive lyric structures and one-dimensional instrumentals to poorly deliver an experience, but Keating’s music is anything but repetitive or bland. Keating can accomplish on her own what most musicians would need a retinue of talented musicians to replicate. A listener will be very pleased to have taken the time to listen to her work, and experience a new, modern approach to a beautiful genre.

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