Cellists move to the spotlightby Marianne Combs, Minnesota Public Radio
Cellists are moving their instruments from the third row of the orchestra to the front row of your local rock venue. This weekend the band Jelloslave releases its new CD "Touch IT."
St. Paul, Minn. — First off, it's Jelloslave, like the dessert Jello, not "cello," as you might think. But Jelloslave member Michelle Kinney readily admits, she is a slave to her instrument.
"I saw the cello being demonstrated in 5th or 4th grade and I was just floored and got flushed and shakes and I just had to have a cello, and I dreamed of carrying this big case around and thought 'I'd be so cool,'" she says.
Michelle Kinney's musical partner in Jelloslave is Jacqueline Ferrier Ultan, who grew up wanting to play the drums, something her parents didn't think was a good idea. Now she's a classically trained musician who bangs on her cello in order to create drum like sounds.
The shelves on Ferrier Ultan's living room wall are covered with CDs that reflect her musical influences -- jazz, classical, minimalist, world music, rock.
Ferrier-Ultan says what she likes about Jelloslave is that they can perform songs that draw from any of those genres, or they might combine them all in the same song.
"I think we cover a lot of territory because it's the music that we love, not because we have to but because it's the music that we're drawn to," says Ferrier-Ultan. "I think we satisfy a lot of different tastes."
Kinney agrees. She says there's no law that limits a band to one type of music. "So why not play it all and why not see where the interconnecting lines are?" asks Kinney.
"J.S. George" is an 11-minute piece that intertwines an invention by J.S. Bach with George Harrison's "Within You, Without You."
On some tracks, Jelloslave worked with a sound engineer to sample cello sounds and remix them. But even on the unmodified tracks Ultan and Kinney use their cellos in ways that would make a concert cellist both laugh and possibly cringe. Ultan raps her bow across the belly of her cello, while Kinney yanks at her strings. Kinney says many of the sounds they've developed have come from hours and hours of play.
"It takes a while to realize that you can make any kind of sound you want, especially if you've been classically trained because you've been trained to do something really specific," says Kinney. "I'm glad I have that foundation, and as a teacher I try to give that foundation to my students too, but I try to sneak in little moments and get them to think about harmonics and think about pulling up the string and doing weird things so they know it has a lot of potential to do things other than... something classical sounding."
While classical music has a definite influence on their work, both Kinney and Ultan have rejected pursuing careers with orchestras. Kinney says it simply wasn't the right fit.
"It's not that I don't like classical music; I love classical music," says Kinney. "But I hate playing in a herd which is what it feels like for me in a cello section."
But Kinney isn't interested in just playing back-up to a rock band, either.
"In those the parts are nice, lovely padding - background stuff - which sounds great. It will put you to sleep if you're in the right mood. But what we're doing is much more dynamic; it's really putting the strings forward."
As for Ferrier-Ultan, she says what she enjoys about performing in Jelloslave is that she can see her audience react to the music.
"We connect with our audience," says Ferrier-Ultan. "I'd rather play in a noisy bar than on a concert stage because I like that people are doing things. And that they're active."
Kinney and Ultan hope to perform in front of a large and very active audience at the Southern Theater when they release their new CD, "Touch It."
- Morning Edition, 02/17/2006, 6:40 a.m.