Skip to content

@zoecello @toronto

“The concert was amazing,” the paragraph starts and already I’m second guessing because I don’t think I’ve said much if anything about the fact that I was going to a concert and that means I’m starting from the end without knowing just how far back to how much of a beginning that I need to begin with in order for this ending to make sense.

by Jeffrey Rusch

The concert was amazing, and as much as I wanted to get home afterward, I needed to walk a few blocks before the energy settled down enough that I could let go of the moment and fit inside my own skin.

Here’s the first problem. My cousins asked what’s new over Easter and I said, “Well, I’m going to a concert in June.” And they asked who I was seeing and I answered Zoë Keating. And they asked who is that? And I don’t know how to answer. “She plays the cello.”

She calls herself an avant-cellist. I view her as an experimental control freak. She plays in an orchestra-of-self, one of numerous artists who use loops and multiple tracks to build up layers and layers of their own sound until they have the whole background band against which to play.

Zoë does that too, but it’s a second-order effect. So that despite the fact that I’ve watched her on video, and now in person, there are times where things are happening in the music where I just can’t follow the combination of construction and music and it seems to swirl away from me, only to converge a little later in a passage that raises goosebumps.

I don’t know why I react to her music as I do. Some of it is just because I like the music. I don’t like the answer but suspect there’s some synaesthetic component that makes me respond to parts that are at least as much structural as musical.

She pointed out this thing about Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, and then proceeded to play it. In that if you loop the cello part on itself without any other tricks, it plays out against itself into an almost elaborate canon or fugue. Of course, I’m into classical music without knowing so much about names and things so I know I know the 7th, but had no idea which it was till she played and the light-bulb went off in my head and I could hear the violins in my head playing against the cellos on the stage. Like she said, there’s 16 of her. But I think she miscounts that, forgetting the extra Zoë that’s live.

Still, I need to get my hands on the score. Because I am not a music scholar but I know that Beethoven and his ilk were prone to this kind of construction, and now I want to read it, just to feel the technical detail of the beautiful sound. I want to touch the atoms of the song.

We stood for 3 hours. And almost two of them were just waiting for things to start. There were no chairs which is odd in a musical performance in a hall, but I guess maybe it’s cheaper that way. And when she came onto the stage, she apologized for the delay that had resulted from her getting her hair caught on a hanger. Which is kind of funny. And entirely credible given the fact that she’s tall and long with her red dreadlocks up in a strange sort of spike.

Long and thin. Her arms seem like they’d be thinner than my fingers. But she moves. My violin teacher taught me to notice that, back when I was 14, and it has gradually become a measure, to me, of musicianship. The people who know how to play, who really play, they can’t not move to the music. The performance isn’t just the instrument, or else the instrument isn’t just the machine, but it’s the combination of the two, and the sound would not be the sound unless the sound came with the sway or the lean. Pizzicato requires the head-bob. And the long draw of the bow is pulled by the chin.

It’s interesting to me that skill and proficiency almost always seem to bring a musician back to the same sorts of things that are the curse of a beginner. She made a passage of music that… I don’t know the word. It translated in phase, it swayed, it did whatever a guitar does when you put it through a wah-wah pedal. It’s the sound a string makes against a bow when the contact isn’t right, when the bow needs rosin, when the finger isn’t firm, but she uses those sounds and others, and she controls it and the result is a sound that Yo-yo Ma would likely only make in play (but with equal control)

How do I forget how much I want a cello?


I posted this elsewhere and I was asked what my favourite song of hers is, or what I’d recommend.  Right now, I’ve rediscovered “Escape Artist” from her latest album.  More info at

And if I’ve pointed you to something new, let me know.  She’s a fun artist to share.

Posted in cool, life.

Tagged with , , , , .

One Response

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. Elizabeth Marie says

    Listening now. Thank you for the link.

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.