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Quantum Cello

Monday, August 25, 2008 - 06:00 PM

Jad and cellist Zoe Keating discuss the physics (if not metaphysics) of looping sound and how to use a 17th century instrument to make avant-garde electronic music.

 Zoe Keating is the cellist from our live show, War of the Worlds. She used to play with the band Rasputina and now solos and records music for films, such as horror flick, 'The Devil's Chair' and a PBS documentary on Lincoln's assassination. Her music process reminded us a bit of ours (looping and layering sound) so she and Jad sat down together in San Francisco to talk shop and listen to some unreleased stuff off her new album (as of yet untitled).

You can see her on tour with Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls in September and October. You can also check out her album,
One Cello X 16: Natoma. Read more about her here.



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Comments [54]

Ever Vargas from Los Angeles

Dom la nena is a brazilian cellist that uses a similar technique with a south american influence. It is nice to see the contrast because they use similar instruments. Here's a video if anyone is interested...

May. 28 2015 12:42 AM
Emilie from Juneau

I can only imagine riding into battle to this song.

Aug. 19 2013 05:56 PM
Galen from Toronto, ON

I never really come on here to write comments but I've listened to almost every single Radiolab episode and had somehow skipped over this one until today..

I also love to loop sounds, usually using Ableton or a RCX delay pedal with my guitars but listening to Zoe's compositions made me want to sell what little guitars and gear I have and buy a cello, hahaha..

But seriously. Your music and your humility is astonishingly great. Inspiring. And good on ya Jad for giving her this space to share her talents. Encore!!

Aug. 16 2013 02:30 PM

I love this episode, because I didn't know of Zoe's existence until now. I fell in love with her sound instantly. I now listen to her music on grooveshark, and I shared the Escape Artist song with many friends!

Aug. 09 2013 01:14 PM
Danilo from Boston

Does anyone know the name of the first piece she played? That was amazing!!!

May. 17 2012 06:13 PM
colin sharpe from ontario

Jus saw Zoe at the Great Hall in Toronto. Played many pieces from Into the Trees. ALSO played Beethoven 7, Second Movement, on solo cello, looping until it sounded like an entire orchestra. <<>>

Jun. 19 2011 12:50 PM
Todd Matthews from Virginia

It was this episode that blew my mind and I decided I had to figure out how to loop my bass. Zoe is soooo amazing. I can't wait to see her live..... especially awesome would be another Radiolab collaboration with Zoe's music in DC. That should be a regular tradition:) If your interested in what a looped double bass sounds like, here is a 2 min vid:

Jun. 14 2011 11:29 AM

The song Zoë plays in this episode is available on her album _Into the Trees_:

It's track 2, "Escape Artist," and it's beautiful. The song changed my belief in what one person can create. Thank you, Radiolab, for airing it over 2 and a half years ago.

Mar. 22 2011 12:40 AM
Martin from Sydney

I just discovered this going through backlog on my ipod and WOW, what a discovery. This is zen for a stressful day and peace for your mind. I love it.

Mar. 16 2011 06:59 AM
Martin from Sydney

I just discovered this going through backlog on my ipod and WOW, what a discovery. This is zen for a stressful day and peace for your mind. I love it.

Mar. 16 2011 06:57 AM
DAREK from Illinois

Thank you O'Amazing Radiolab for bringing Zoe's most amazing and beautiful music to us!

Feb. 20 2011 11:14 PM

I'm a cellist listening to this the night before a solo performance. Now I feel at peace with the world of music...thank you, Zoe.

Jul. 07 2010 07:28 PM
violin beginner lessons

What lovely music! The cello has always been one of my favorite instruments.

May. 28 2010 01:04 PM
Courtney Bolton

oh, it's so beautiful!

Mar. 30 2010 07:16 PM

To this day, this episode remains one of my favorite Radio Lab podcasts. Great work, keep it up!

Jul. 20 2009 01:17 PM
John Knox

Found this extremely fascinating; especially in finding out how Zoe layers the sounds over and over.

I went to great lengths to have her CD 'One Cello X16 Natoma' sent to NZ and there is a strong possibility that it is the only one in the country.

I play it sometimes over at Pigeon Bay, Banks Peninsula. 'Google Earth' that place folks and you'll see why I probably play it there.

Thanks John Knox - Christchurch, NZ

May. 09 2009 05:31 AM

Thank you Radio Lab!

And Thank you Zoe!
I was listening to this podcast at work and was completely leveled by this music. I love that when Zoe was asked to play something, she asked if it was ok to improvise... and something beautiful, that may never be heard again (except for this podcast) was born, existed for 3 or so minutes, and was blinked out of existance.

Thank you,

Apr. 16 2009 05:57 PM

I love you Zoe Keating. You create a world that is at once enthralling and mesmerizing. Your music touches my soul.

Jan. 25 2009 02:01 PM

Wonderful podcast! The first song she performed sounds so familiar & I can't put my finger on it. Does anyone know if it's featured in a commercial or something like that? It's absolutely beautiful.

Jan. 09 2009 07:58 PM

SooperLooper is the key piece of software used for looping. And I'm pretty sure she uses it with logic.

Sooperlooper is free (donations encouraged) software that is really fun to use.

Dec. 07 2008 11:16 AM
Neil Cowley

Awesome ambiance - fun thought to channel the past - with software sounds...

Nov. 24 2008 01:05 PM
Keith Landry

For those of you wondering what Zoe is using to loop listen here:

Nov. 07 2008 09:26 AM

This was brilliant, thank you. Is there any way to get the album in the UK?

Sep. 15 2008 06:39 AM

Amazing episode, as always. I was lucky enough to load up the podcast before a long bus ride, and as always Radio Lab was a perfect companion to watching the highway drift by.

Zoe was kind enough to let us use a song for a recent video, so I thought I'd share:

Sep. 12 2008 03:20 PM


Thanks Jad and company for this sterling gift. I listened to Zoe's piece on the subway and let it continue to play as I exited the train and station. The experience was singular and wonderful and reminded me why I love the show. Thanks again.

Sep. 11 2008 11:56 AM

Hi I am really interested in the first piece of music in the podcast. I am a choreographer looking for ideas and that piece was so great, how can I find out the title and purchase it?

Sep. 09 2008 01:28 PM

There's another artist who also uses Apleton named Kid Beyond. He layers loops of him beatboxing and will create entire songs

Sep. 08 2008 09:21 AM

Zoe's looping cello reminded me of the music by Caryn Lin, who I heard several years ago. Caryn loops her electronic violin.

If interested, see!

Sep. 06 2008 06:46 PM
Trevor Redmond

Zoe, your music was hauntingly beautiful and I certianly hope to find your music online, someplace. Thanks for providing a unique sample and insight to an amazing work you've done.

Sep. 05 2008 10:35 AM


Sep. 05 2008 03:57 AM

There's a nice snippet of her playing in the videos at - on this page (if the software lets me post links):


Sep. 04 2008 07:45 PM

For those of us in NYC, there is a monthly party called Warper, which is themed around this new live remix, layered looping, etc. Many of the artists use live instruments in conjunction with pre-recorded sounds. There is a cellist who goes by the moniker Cosmo D who does something very similar to this, though more towards the funk end of the spectrum.

Sep. 04 2008 10:45 AM

Great stuff. It reminded me that I lived in Oxford, England in the late 80s and this busker used an electric violin with a similar effect. A few years later, I found a CD by him in the local HMV. He's called Ed Alleyne Johnson, and worth a look. His songs are a bit more structured than Zoes.

Sep. 04 2008 03:05 AM
Darth Brooks

She's no Squarepusher, but the music is highly listenable.

Sep. 03 2008 10:16 PM

Great podcast. I've heard Zoe Keating live quite a few times in SF, both solo and when she played with Rasputina. I highly recommend seeing her perform, she's not just a fantastic cellist, but also quite charming during her performances.

If you liked her looping cello, I also recommend looking for and listening to loop!station, a cello/vocalist duet that uses similar looping techniques to build incredible walls of sound with just the two performers while live.

Sep. 03 2008 05:36 PM
Disciple of "Bob"

Terry Reiley and/or Frippertronics, anyone?

Aug. 31 2008 08:02 PM

This is probably my favorite "quickie" podcast. Zoe is incredible! Please do more stuff with her in the future if possible! =) Can't wait for Season 5!

Aug. 31 2008 12:48 PM

I am thrilled that Radiolab is producing these interstitial podcasts... it makes the wait until next season so much easier.

I was listening to this episode in my darkroom last night while making prints. It's phenomenal music, very inspiring, and I had to buy both albums immediately.

Aug. 30 2008 09:48 AM
Jim Norman

Does anyone how Jad recorded Zoe's performances? A little bump here and there suggests he used some sort of field recorder (and didn't just get her to record the performances with her Ableton software and give them to him to add later). Beautiful recordings of beautiful music.

Aug. 29 2008 09:33 PM
Cindy Henley

When I heard the podcast, I wanted to talk to someone about it. I called my nephew to see if he had heard it he had not yet.

I find the music unsettling and beautiful at the same time. Like life... When I was a kid, I had this fantasy that if I just sat down at the piano and played it would sound beautiful. That I could just play if I didn't think about it and just played. Then one day in my thirties I did. It is so relaxing and beautiful. I just let my emotions take me where I am going while I play. I guess the question that comes to my mind... the challenge I find is: how do you notate the music to reproduce it at a later time? Do you somehow write it down or do you just remember it in your mind? Is there a way to notate it in such a way that someone else could play it?

So many thoughts and emotions were stirred up by this broadcast. It is beautiful, disturbingly so at times. On a side note, the way Zoe talks sounds almost exactly like a friend of mine. She, Martha, is articulate and very intelligent, headstrong at times with an underlying questioning of herself every now and then (for Zoe I saw it a little when she talked about her stagefright). Have you ever heard someone talk and you just kept thinking,"Who does that sound like?" I had to call Martha up.

Thanks for the podcast. I can't wait to get Zoe's CD's.

Aug. 28 2008 03:24 PM

I'm a big fan of Zoe's after seeing her in a small but wonderful venue, AMSD, in San Diego, when she appeared with the California Guitar Trio. I was in awe of her artistry and amazing ability to layer sounds of uncommon types from one instrument. Great interview! Looking forward to the next album...

Aug. 27 2008 10:23 AM

Singer/songwriter Andrew Bird also does quite a lot with quite a little, much in the same vein as Ms. Keating. He loops his violin bows, plucks, taps, and strums to form the basics of most of his songs, which he fills with guitars, drum loops, a beautiful voice, and pitch-perfect whistling. He also has some pseudo-sciency lyrics...sometimes. I'm sure many RadioLab fans are familiar with Andrew Bird, but I wanted to make sure he got a shout out!

Aug. 27 2008 01:34 AM

thanks, very inspiring music. I hope Larkin is listening

Aug. 26 2008 09:55 PM

Beautiful music, gave me chills. This is exactly the kind of inward spiraling music I love to paint to. Thanks Radiolab, thanks Zoe.

Aug. 26 2008 06:19 PM

The music is just lovely--cello is my favorite insturment and what I would play if given the choice. What Zoe is doing sounds similar to KT Tunstall's "wee bastard pedal", which started as a way for her to play unaccompanied. She still uses it in concert to great effect even though she has a back-up band. It's amazing the range of sounds that string insturments have, be they cello, guitar, or whatever. Thanks for a great show--can't wait for the new season!

Aug. 26 2008 06:09 PM
marc Cardwell

between this show and the previous "wordless music," i'm so happy to hear new music that i didn't know about. love this show, thanks for the great work.

Aug. 26 2008 04:04 PM

even if ya forget my poster... :-*

Aug. 26 2008 02:52 PM

I just love you Zoë ! Thanks for this rechording :)

Aug. 26 2008 02:50 PM

Lovely! I'm a big fan of Rasputina, and of Radio Lab... how nice to hear them together.

Aug. 26 2008 11:10 AM

Listening now to the first piece and am blown away. This is heartbreakingly gorgeous music, and like Ali, I also feel that this is easily some of the best music that I've heard in ages.

Aug. 26 2008 11:10 AM

some of the best music I have heard in a long while

Aug. 26 2008 10:19 AM
Tom Rex (from LD list)

"...hearing your past over and over again can get boring, so you might want to change it..." Right on Zoe!

I love the way you make percussive rhythms, I assume beating on your cello. I took some downloads of yours recently from eMusic and mixed them with some Calexico for an wonder-full evening of home-spun DJing. It was great!

Aug. 25 2008 07:17 PM
sam greene

Found it - Ableton Live.

Aug. 25 2008 07:10 PM
sam greene

Can you tell us what type of software Zoe uses?

Aug. 25 2008 06:51 PM

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