Earlier in 2014, Kaki King, the renowned guitarist, launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund her latest venture. When attending her shows in the past, they would typically take place at a more intimate venue where the focus of the attending patrons is to listen attentively to the incredible array of sounds blending together and filling the room. This is a direct contrast to the more typical rock shows where, along with the music being performed, you often get to hear people shout over each other about their lives. This new venture, though, was something very different. It moved from just a musical performance aspect to a more performance art piece.
Walking into the theater, all that’s on stage is a large projection screen, a matte white guitar fixed in position at the head and base, an array of effects pedals, and some projection equipment. Doesn’t seem like much when you think about it, but the experience to follow is something that, while surely done before, was executed in brilliant fashion that it could expose people to the art and use of projection mapping.
The key element in all of this is the matte white guitar fixed to stands at both ends. You don’t often find a guitar player looking to fix their position for a performance, but in this case it was absolutely necessary. Why would the guitar need to be matte white? Because that guitar was about to become a projection surface.
Emerging into the darkened theater to ambient music with matching visuals on the larger projection screen, Kaki King, dressed in all white, sat down and began to use the guitar in its entirety, the way she has been known to do for her whole career. Scraping the body with fingernails, harmonics on the strings, using an over hand technique at the neck to tap out the bass line and the other to tap the specific frets for melody, and even treating the body like a percussion instrument, she created a sonic environment from this single instrument. The difference this time was that while she played there was a visual element going on both behind her and on the guitar itself.
Seeing street scenes from a winter in New York, liquids vibrating and bouncing on a moving surface, and geometric patterns of all kinds that matched with her performance gave a whole new layer to the show. But it was the use of projection on the guitar that really set this show apart. Being as there is someone playing the guitar with a projector pointed at it, you would expect to see a fair amount of light on the performer, but that didn’t happen. The visuals on the guitar were actually constructed so carefully that they did not exceed the dimensions at any point.
They used the imagery on that guitar to help tell a story, literally a story of the guitar itself during one piece, which corresponded to each song. There was interplay with a mouse-like projection that she would scurry off by scraping the guitar. When using the body for percussion, there were waves generated as if from drops of rain at the point of impact. At some of the more wide eyed moments, the outlie of the guitar would be illuminated by the image, leaving the rest dark, or the entire guitar would be lit up with bright colors; each part of the guitar – bridge, body, head, even frets – getting a different color.
I stop short of calling this an art installation type of a performance because there was much more to it than that. Of course, that might just be due to the fact that I’m a fan of the music. The fact is, this was one of the most unique show experiences I’ve had the privilege of attending, and seeing the way that the visual aspect can interplay with the sonic leads me to believe that there are still people out there looking for a deeper engagement to their music listening experience.
This wholly immersive show has only been performed a few times but is going to be making its way around the US over the next few months. If you are looking for a new way to experience one of the preeminent guitar players in the world today in an environment she and her team have worked diligently to create for you as a complete listening experience, I highly recommend you don’t miss “The Neck Is The Bridge To The Body” by Kaki King.
Pictures care of @freeberde on Twitter