STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For 21st Century Media
Kaki King has already established herself as a truly unique musician. She takes the guitar into uncharted territory with her technique that includes finger picking, slapping and utilizing the entire instrument to create a variety of sounds. So how does one who has already pushed the boundaries of what is possible with the guitar take it a step further?
The answer is “The Neck Is a Bridge to the Body,” King’s latest multimedia concert production.
In a phone interview from her Brooklyn, N.Y. home, King described the evolution of the show.
“The period of time before and after ‘Glow’ [King’s 2012 recording on Velour] — 4 years, just about — I really spent just playing guitar. I had done a lot of stuff with bands and I had done a lot of rock tours and I really wanted to go back to just acoustic guitar. And I was really playing extremely well, but the stage setting was utterly naked. By the end of it I was thinking ‘OK, so what else is there?’
“Initially I just wanted a lighting element. I thought, ‘well maybe if I designed some interesting, beautiful lighting thing then I can make the show a little bit bigger, a little more eye catching — something pretty.’ So I went down all kinds of rabbit holes, chasing this visual art dream — (and) I discovered projection mapping.”
King’s non-technical description of projection mapping is: “You find an object and take a photo of it — this is all in the computer — and then you cut the object out and then you put it back into a program, and anytime you shine a light through the projector it’s gonna hit just that object.”
She adds: “A lot of people have been using it for giant installations. So I thought ‘how can I make this intimate and small?’ And it finally occurred to me — what if I map the guitar I’m playing?”
King connected with Glowing Pictures, the multimedia pioneers who have worked with the likes of David Byrne and Brian Eno, Beastie Boys, Animal Collective and TV on the Radio. And together they developed the show.
“There’s a storyline. It’s very loose but it has to do with creation and it kind of becomes about the guitar itself and what the guitar can offer and what an instrument can offer a musician, and how the instrument has shaped my identity. And it’s all new music; it’s an entirely new record. And so far it’s been a total labor of love. We have a lot of different features in the show that are very high tech and very cool.”
So while King is adding this new visual element to her performances, she is going back to basics on the guitar. With no other instrumentation to make the sound fuller, she’ll be relying on the techniques and innovations that made her famous, such as the percussion sounds that she incorporates into her music.
“The percussion comes from this notion that you’re playing the guitar and you have to fit everything in the guitar (because) that’s all you get. So how do I get the sounds I want? Well, I can bang on it, I can scratch it … the percussion was more of a means to an end to get the sound fully fleshed out and sounding like 2 or 3 guitars at a time, when really it’s almost like a discipline. You’ve got 6 strings and 1 guitar; go create a universe out of it.”
She attributes the ability to think outside the box from her childhood.
“I grew up in a house where (listening to) every kind of music was not just encouraged but almost required. And having good taste was important. Having a very good musical vocabulary was very important. My father insisted that we be exposed to as much as we possibly could. We’d have music appreciation hour and he’d sit down and (say) ‘this is what the Clash sound like and this is what Bach sounds like and this is what’s going on with Dave Brubeck.’ So I was exposed to a lot at a young age through my dad, who just loved music. And I think I’ve carried on through that practice.”
Never one to rest on her laurels, what could King possibly come up with next?
“As far as I’m concerned (‘The Neck is a Bridge to the Body’ is) not exactly a work in progress; it’s a very complete show. But the technology and the places I think I can go with it — I feel very much like we’re just scratching the surface.”
IF YOU GO
What: Kaki King presents “The Neck Is a Bridge to the Body”
When: Saturday, Jan. 31. 8 p.m. show; 6 p.m. for VIP.
Where: World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., Philadelphia.
Ages: All ages
Tickets: $22 for show + $25 for optional VIP upgrade
Info.: Check www.philly.worldcafelive.com or call (215) 222-1400