Cellist performs tonight at The Englert


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The bow passes across the cello's strings, emitting a rich, resonant sound. Cello upon cello join the sounds of the first, soaring and plunging and spinning the audience into a reverie of melody.

But only one figure is on stage.

Zoë Keating sits poised with her cello in front of her and her foot pressing on a pedal connected to a laptop.

This will be the scene when Keating performs at 8 p.m. in the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St.

"I love the sound of lots of cellos," she said. "I feel like there can never be enough, so I wanted to make music that was all layers of cello."

She discovered a way to accomplish the feat by using a computer to sample the cello, record it live onstage, and control the arrangement of those samplings with Musical Instrument Digital Interface.

"Computers for me are just like pencils," said Keating, who previously worked at software startups. "I don't want people to hear the computer on stage, I want them to hear the cello, because people react and respond to the sound of the cello and not the sound of a computer."

Samantha Hale, one of the cellist's fans, first met Keating in 2005, when the musician was opening for Imogen Heap. Hale featured Keating in her documentary Map the Music and found solace after the death of her father in Keating's song "Walking Man."

"That's the beauty of Zoë, you can't compare her with anyone or anything," Hale said. "She creates these sonic landscapes that are just so beautiful, and it's just amazing the emotions she can get out of her cello."

Although Keating makes music on a traditionally classic instrument, her style is genre-crossing. She said the classical world hasn't quite accepted her fully yet.

"That's why I often play mostly in rock and roll clubs, because that feels like a better fit for me, although I don't really fit anywhere," she said.

The classical world may not fully understand her yet, but the members try to keep up with the times. And soon, Keating and artists similar to her may find a place in that world.

"The classical music world is moving with technology, so more and more people are plugging in and finding ways of making sound out of their instruments," said Anthony Arnone, a University of Iowa associate professor of cello.

Keating said she wants her audience to get the same feelings she has as she touches her bow to the strings.

"When I play, it's like I leave time and I go to a different place, and time ceases to have any meaning," she said. "One hour can feel like one minute, and I really treasure that experience and hope that the audience gets to experience that a little bit, too."

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