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One-woman orchestra coming to SPACE

Zoe Keating Phoby Jared Kelly

Zoe Keating Photo by Jared Kelly

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Zoe Keating

SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston

2 p.m. on Feb. 11; (8 p.m. show sold out)

$18 - $34

(847) 492-8860,

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Updated: February 12, 2012 10:49AM

Zoe Keating was the tallest kid in her grade at age 8 in England, so music teachers stuck her with the cello.

The pairing is an event Keating and fans of avant garde orchestra music have been grateful for ever since.

Employing a do-it-yourself ethic, she’s become one woman making the music of many using the help of a laptop computer while she plays her instrument. Her moody songs often sound like orchestras of various sizes.

“A teacher asked me if I wanted to play it and I think it’s because I was the tallest,” Keating said. “I thank that teacher almost every day. Once I started playing it, I loved it. I love the sound, how rich it is and it’s been a real constant in my life. I feel like it’s my voice.”

A second show at SPACE in Evanston has been added on Feb. 11 after her first one sold out. She has also sold 45,000 copies of her three albums since 2004 without any record label or management support. Her latest album, “Into the Trees,” released in 2010, was inspired by her family’s move from the city to the country outside of San Francisco.

Layering music

Keating, who was classically-trained but played with some rock bands, started writing layered cello music 10 years ago, but found she was really the only one who could play it the way she wanted it to sound.

“At the time I couldn’t afford to hire an orchestra, and writing out sheet music seemed so tedious and I didn’t know how to translate the kind of experimental playing that I was doing into music,” she said. “Plus, I wanted to be more flexible than that. I wanted to be able to play some things that are composed and then mix it up with some things that are improvised and change directions, and I didn’t know any classical players that could do that. So, it was so much easier for me to do it myself.”

A laptop computer is the only other “musician” on stage with her, doing precisely what she instructs it to do. She could use pedals to loop a part in a song like guitarists sometimes do, but Keating said more than one becomes cumbersome and it’s hard to see her feet. Plus, she’s able perform more complex pieces with the laptop and it takes up less space.

“I wanted to be able to sample myself live, then store it and maybe throw it back,” she said. “With standard looping, you record a piece and then you hear it throughout the entire piece, and I wanted to be able to make the music more complicated.”

However, it is a computer, and therefor it sometimes crashes while she’s performing on stage.

“Often there’s a silence and I laugh,” Keating said. “I’ve just become a little more adept at accepting it and continuing on. Sometimes I’ll stop and talk to the audience.”

Living proof

Keating said there have been times people tell her they like it when the laptop malfunctions because it reminds them that the show is live.

“It does demonstrate that it’s real and that I’m not just singing along to a backing track or the Milli Vanilli of cellists,” she said.

Keating, who does everything her way, has a little extra tour support for “Into the Trees.” Her infant son, who was born last May.

“I released my album at the same time I had a baby,” she said.“My family comes with me.”

She’s currently writing songs inspired by motherhood for her next album. The cello, it seems, is just the instrument for that.

“That sound,” she said. “It’s pretty universal. People always say they just love the sound of the cello. It’s in the same tonal range as the human voice. You feel it right there in your chest.

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