'It Feels Like Walking Through A Blizzard': The Spacious, Eerie Music Of Lauren Costello

Jul 8, 2019

Lauren Costello sat in her living room, holding her cello. The fingers of her left hand rested lightly on the strings. With her right hand, she drew her bow across the instrument. She tapped an effect pedal at her feet to make it sound like she was playing in a cavernous hall.

"It kind of has an eerie-er sound, which I like," she said.

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Costello began making loops with her cello, layering the notes to create motifs that twist and bend into each other. Her process for composing is a little like making a sculpture — but instead of using clay, she uses sound.

Burlington musician Lauren Costello plays the cello for several bands as well as a solo artist.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR

Her pieces are winding, cyclical experiences, that often explore one specific theme — like politics, philosophy — and most recently, math.

"My favorite description of my music that I've heard or read was saying that it feels like walking through a blizzard that's gorgeous but also difficult to walk through," she said.

Costello does field recordings with her iPhone.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR

Costello, 36, is based in Burlington. She plays cello in several bands, and she also writes and performs her own music. Her solo pieces are spacious, ambient compositions that weave together cello, guitar, field recordings and singing. She performs under the nine letter, unpronounceable moniker: Ouzkxqlzn.

"Unfortunately, I don't like any of the ways it sounds if it might be pronounced," she said. "So it's not pronounced. But I like the way it looks. I don't know, I always feel self-conscious that it might be kind of, like, a pretentious thing. It's definitely not intended like that at all."

Costello grew up outside of Philadelphia and played cello as a kid, though she stopped in high school. She picked up the instrument again when she went to college in Boston.

"I just kind of missed playing, so I rented a cello and just started playing for fun, as, like, an outlet," Costello said. "And then I met some people who were musicians, and we kind of started a band together."

When that band stopped playing, Costello started making solo music. But by then she was burned out of living in Boston and decided to follow several family members who moved to Vermont.

Costello checks her "trash flowers," or the plants too far gone to sell at Healthy Living Market that she takes home to nurse back to health.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR

At first, she didn’t plan to stay long. But then Costello fell in love with the state.

"I kind of just forgot how much I loved nature until I moved to Vermont," she said. "And then it was so accessible and easy — it's just like a bike ride away to get to a whole other world. And definitely I think my music incorporates the experience of exploring a world like that, solitary or with a bunch of friends."

Costello likes to record her music on cassette tapes, she said, because the tape provides a natural warble for her cello.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR

Costello's been in Vermont for about a decade. For her day job, she works in customer service at Healthy Living Market in South Burlington. Costello would like to do music full-time, but isn't sure she could do that just by performing in Vermont. One challenge she's come across is getting people to come out to see shows.

"But there's definitely opportunities, I think, to come in and out of the state," Costello said. "I could see, like, maybe hitting a certain point where it's like, you need to maybe try to progress outside of Vermont, but I think it's doable to make it your base."

Overall, Costello said the music community she's found in the state is supportive and a place where you can try new things.

"Just being surrounded by people who are challenging themselves and trying new things and being really innovative, it's just so inspiring, and it's just easy to want to be a part of that or get caught up in that energy," she said.

One of those people in the scene is Wren Kitz. The two met about four and a half years ago at the Monkey House, a bar and music venue in Winooski. Kitz was working there and Costello would come to shows. The two got to talking and exchanged music.

A poster hangs in Costello's apartment from when she played improvised music to accompany the film "Pumpkinhead."
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR

Kitz said Costello’s music stood out to him.

“It sounded really wonderful," he said. "It was eerie. I think like, spooky and slow."

The pair started jamming, and Kitz said making music together was easy.

“She's got such a good ear — like, she listens," he said. "One of the first times we were jamming, sometimes she wouldn't play at all and just like, ‘I just need to listen.’ I kind of really enjoy that she was kind of taking the time to really listen to what was going on in a tune."

Costello has developed a love for drying flowers left over at her workplace, Healthy Living Market, and she uses them to create visual art, including decorative cassette tapes.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR

Costello said she doesn't have any solo shows in the near future. But she's working on recording some pieces she's already played. She also said she's putting together an ambient album that she hopes to finish up by the end of the year.

This story is part of our series, Young At Art. Every Monday this summer we'll hear from artists under 40 about what inspires their work and how they view the future for artists in the state. Support for Young At Art comes from Quantum Leap Capital.