Kaki King’s new show, “The Neck is a Bridge to the Body,” is more than a typical concert. A virtuoso in the instrumental guitar world, King has developed a show that’s as much visual stimulation as it is auditory entertainment, using tricks like projection mapping on a stationary guitar alongside the instrumental guitar soundtrack.
King will bring the show to the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College on Tuesday, April 3.
A life-long student of the instrument, King is a monster – a Michael Hedges-influenced, strumming, picking, tapping and percussive player – who walks a line between avant-garde jazz, weird rock, and classical.
The show was developed in 2014, as King was trying to keep her ship afloat while the industry collapsed on itself. Record sales were out as profitable, and live shows were in.
“The live experience had to become not just better, but it had to become profitable for a lot of people,” King said. “How do I create something that is still me, but you can only capture it live? You cannot videotape, you cannot YouTube a clip and go, ‘Oh, I get it.’ It really is something that is so powerful, and profound, and enormous in a live setting. I knew that building a live performance unlike any other was a very important thing to focus on.”
King’s guitar, not the person playing the guitar, is center stage during the show, although her part is obviously what drives the performance. When coupled with the “digital mapping,” in which a computer program sends light and images to the guitar and a screen behind her, it results in a psychedelic bombardment of images and messages, a modern art film where the guitar is more than just the soundtrack.
“It allows the guitar to take on this very worldly character. The 3-D effect, the animation to video work, the very surreal looking things, the photographs; it runs the gamut. So I’m playing the live soundtrack of the movie you’re watching on the guitar. Then behind me, framing me, is another projection screen that matches or compliments what we’re doing with the guitar. So there are so many levels of what you can see,” King said.
The show was developed with the idea that it will create itself the more it’s performed. It transforms King’s guitar playing into more than that of a touring musician.
“It was really a decision to take a step in a direction, and keep taking one step after another without deciding what that meant at the end of the day. At some point, it occurred to me that I could possibly projection map onto a stationary guitar and play it. Is that possible, is that a stable system, is it tourable? That had to be answered. Once it was, I started to develop it. I thought of this as not a vanity project. I had no idea that four years later I’d still be touring this show. The doors it opened, the things it changed about my professional life, has been innumerable. I did not have any way of anticipating that,” King said. “And that’s the happy accident part of not deciding what this thing is, but making the thing, and then putting it out and allowing it to have a life of its own.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected]