Chart-topping musician and longtime Sonoma County resident Zoë Keating combines classical cello training and the latest technology to make her enthralling musical compositions.
Known as a one-woman-orchestra, Keating takes a DIY approach to music, recording and releasing her albums without a record label, and amassing over a million followers on social media through word-of-mouth and her performances.
This weekend, Keating takes the stage at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in an event that pairs her with Jad Abumrad, creator and host of the popular Radiolab program, for a music and spoken-word affair.
For Keating, the road began when she was eight years old, when found herself assigned the cello in class because she was the tallest student. After completing a liberal arts program at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, she moved to San Francisco in the late 1990s to work in the emerging tech field and live in an artist-run warehouse space.
“It was the turn of the millennium, and it was a really creative environment,” says Keating.
Being surrounded by other like-minded artists who were combining computer tech and musical performance inspired Keating to take her cello in a new amplified direction. “It was very organic and gradual,” she says.
Keating created original pieces using pedal-looping technology, which allowed her to layer cello melodies into an expansive and atmospheric music unlike anything else being produced at the time.
“I was lucky, it was right-place, right-time for me,” says Keating. When she decided to release her debut solo EP in 2006, Keating shopped it to record labels but got zero positive feedback, so she released it herself the year iTunes opened its platform to independent artists. With the help of a little NPR coverage, her debut went to No. 1 on iTunes.
The upcoming performance is titled “Gut Churn,” in which Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad presents a narrative accompanied by Keating’s live, mostly improvised score that touches on “the idea of the feeling of fear leading to art,” Keating says.
Keating says she and host Jad Abumrad, with whom she’s collaborated since 2008, share so many similar sensibilities that for the upcoming performance they probably won’t even discuss the show until sound check. “We really trust each other.”
The Santa Rosa show is a welcome addition to Keating’s schedule of international touring that included a trip to the White House last October. “I like that I can go around the world and come back here,” she says of her home near Occidental. “This is my refuge.”