EAR OF Zoë KEATING
The cellist and composer talks to Synesthesia about her experience visualizing music
Photos + Post + Words by Corgam
Interviewed for Synesthesia in 2017, photos taken in 2013
SYNESTHESIA: Your music is often regarded as “cinematic” and visually evocative, very much appealing to serve as companion for film scenes and such, and you have as a matter of fact, composed music for various films and visual projects, but I wonder if while you’re writing new music, do you tend to experience synesthesia and actually see the music, or some sort of visualizations?
ZOE: I find it incredibly hard to describe but when I’m in the flow, I’m creating some kind of abstract, fluid landscape that I can see in my minds eye. It’s made of little patterns. The patterns vary, some are shapes like tetris blocks, some are sparkling droplets, or swirls or fractals. Together they all make up a kind of spaciousness. It’s a place but it’s also a shifting, shimmering thing filled with energy and emotion and direction. It also takes an incredibly long time to make. I make buckets and buckets of music but very little ends up as a finished piece. I need time to be immersed inside of each world in order to see how the patterns are going to fit together into something bigger. When that happens, things really click and I see immediately what the thing wants to be. I get swept up in it. I become the music.
I love performing because that feeling of immersion into my landscape is instantaneous, I almost cease to exist, and I don’t have to work to get there like I do in the studio. Something about being onstage in front of an audience is a catalyst.
"Some of my earliest memories are listening to music and lying on the floor or dancing and the music painting an image in my mind's eye"
S: From your own perspective, what makes your music so visual?
Z: I think that is just what music is for me. Some of my earliest memories are listening to music and lying on the floor or dancing and the music painting an image in my minds eye. There is so much to it, it’s infinite. When I hear something I like that I get very absorbed by it. It engages all my senses and I almost can’t do anything else. It can be a little much actually. There are times when I’m talking to someone in a restaurant and there is background music and I have difficulty understanding what the person is saying to me. Words stop making sense and I can barely talk.
S: And was visual always a goal of yours once you discovered your own musical style?
Z: I don’t know if any of my music was a goal. I think I just wanted to share my experience, to express myself and be understood. Once I realized I could do that with music and people would listen, I feel like that’s when I really started to live.
Photos + Post by Corgam
The Chapel, San Francisco
November 02 2013
S: The photos featured in this interview were taken back in 2013, do they bring back any memorable flashbacks? Would you say a certain “essence” was captured in these photos?
Z:I don't think I've ever seen them before! Love those. I like the way they got me concentrating. For whatever reason, I haven’t been photographed much and I’m lucky that these were taken. I know I spend my life onstage but I’m quite shy in front of the camera, so…yes!
"I need time to be immersed inside of each world in order to see how the patterns are going to fit together into something bigger. When that happens, things really click and I see immediately what the thing wants to be. I get swept up in it. I become the music"
Zoë Keating will perform at The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco for the first time in over 3 years on July 29 and 30. If you're in the area, this will be a great opportunity to catch her build those sonic landscapes right in front of you. Her mix of electronics, loop pedals and classical instrumentation accomplish a show worth attending.