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Friday, December 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  Overcast
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Cellist Zoë Keating pairs celestial melodies with devilish surprises
Heaven and hell
Exploring the boundaries of classical music.
Exploring the boundaries of classical music.
Credit:Jeffrey Rusch

"I write music. I play the cello and the computer. There are dots over my e," Zoë Keating writes on her blog, These simple sentences say a lot about this avant-garde artist and her work, which bridges the worlds of classical music, electronica and indie rock.

Computers are instruments to the 41-year-old musician, who worked as an information architect before taking up cello fulltime in the mid-aughts. For her best-known project, 2005's One Cello x 16: Natoma, she used a looping machine to turn snippets of melody into a lush symphony of sonic ideas. And the dots over her e make me think of ellipses, a hint that there's much more to come.

Here are four early Keating tracks to peruse before her May 4 concert at UW Music Hall, which will include works from her latest solo album, Into the Trees, and contemporary dance by UW professor Kate Corby's troupe.

This track from Natoma is one of Keating's most impressive and accessible. She makes a bold and graceful entrance, her volume rising until the phrase reaches a high note, then plummeting into softness with utter drama. The chords have an ethereal quality reminiscent of atmospheric rock like U2's "With or Without You" and classical gems like Pachelbel's "Canon."

"Time Is Running Out"
Keating often collaborates with punkish cabaret singer Amanda Palmer, appearing on albums such as 2008's Who Killed Amanda Palmer. The duo's cover of this Muse song has impressed festival attendees and fickle YouTubers alike. Keating steals the show by adding shards of syncopation to the mix.

"If Your Kisses Can't Hold the Man You Love"
Saucy rock band Rasputina welcomed Keating into their ranks in 2002. This song from 2005's A Radical Recital- features crackling feminist wit and the kind of thunder only a cello can provide.

"Legions (War)"
Keating's cello is also a percussion instrument, as she proves on this song from Natoma. She taps out rhythms on its wooden body, creating a meditative base for a plaintive, layered melody. The results sound like a farewell for warriors heading into battle in ancient Scotland.

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