I first heard of Kaki King just a few months ago, which is really hard to comprehend. I spend a lot of time exposing myself to new music, and I pride myself on being aware of the up-and-comers. But to me, she came out of nowhere. Eve forwarded me an article, something along the lines of the ten best musicians you’ve never heard of. And for once, it was right. At least about kaki.
Darryl and I arrived early for the tech rehearsal and Q&A. After they brought us down to the venue and we chose among the best seats in the house (by the way, the Hamilton is a DAMN COOL VENUE, might well be the best venue in the city right now!), Kaki came out, and did a little show-and-tell with her guitar-controlled projection-masking technology, by which one projector displays video clips of choice on the screen behind her, and can be controlled by which notes she plays, and another projector projects clips directly onto her guitar, also controlled by what she plays.
These projections are controlled by Beth Wexler using some software described as edgy but accessible, in a process Kaki describes as collaborative, in that Beth will choose what clips, scenes or patterns will go up, and respond to what Kaki’s playing, and sometimes anticipate what’s coming next, and provide an appropriate visual for it. Once you see how it works, you can see how limitless it can be. The guitar is bolted to a couple of sawed-off mic stands so that it stays put within the confines of the projection mask.
She also showed part of her Oobleck clip. Oobleck is that mixture of cornstarch and water that comes alive and dances when agitated, for example, by low frequencies on top of a speaker. I was impressed already when the oobleck videos looked like some of the best I’ve seen, and more impressed when she told is the footage was shot in her kitchen.
After Kaki’s demo and discussion, she went backstage and the rest of the packed house was allowed in. Seat-choosing, meal-choosing and mingling occurred, and then it was time for the opening act. We ended up having a nice friendly couple join our table. She was a tiny little thing from Oregon, and he was a tall young guy from Maine. I don’t think they were a couple, proper, because at one point she started a sentence with “My boyfriend…” but then it trailed off. I never did find out what her boyfriend…
Being an Oregonian who had lived in Portland, I asked her of course what she thought of the Decemberists. As predicted, it sounded like she could take them or leave them. I think the adoration for the Decemberists might be reserved for people outside their area, or maybe just people of a certain musical persuasion. I pressed her a little bit on it, and she said that she had only had a few encounters with them, to which I prompted, “sexual encounters?” I guess I was testing her sense of humor. Make or break. Either she’s completely offended at this point, or she gets the joke. I think she got it, because she said, emphatically, “YES.” And she did talk to me again throughout the evening. Win win. By the way, she was half my size and polished off the same size pizza that Darryl and I each finished. So points for that.
Janelle and Anthony are a duo, recently engaged. They play a kind of music together that starts as sparse, melodic, sometimes melancholy spacy shoegaze, with light, clear guitar, bowed cello, and sometimes Janelle’s ethereal voice. Over the course of some of the songs, layers are added through long delay pedals and other effects are brought in, until the song spirals out into infinity in a cacophony of sounds, reversed tones, fuzzy flanged-out segments of pink noise, and the like (think Beatles’ Revolution 9), leaving a wake of flashbacks and destroyed villages in its path. They’re good at what they do, and it was quite compelling, despite the table next to ours continuing loud conversation, spilling a drink and otherwise causing distraction from the show.
They packed up and cleared the stage, leaving only Kaki’s setup, the white mounted Ovation Adamas Kaki King signature (painted white for this purpose, and with a carbon fiber textured surface added for additional soundscape construction), a few pedals, the projectors, and a small mirror mounted at the end of the stage so that she could see what she’s projecting.
After a while, the crowd subsided into eating, drinking and quiet conversation while we waited for Kaki. The clue came when a pattern emerged on the big screen in the back. A drone sound began, starting as a kind of low feedback hum.
Kaki came on stage in a white jumpsuit with white sunglasses, matched perfectly to her white guitar. She sat and started playing, realizing during her first piece that something had moved, and her projection mask was no longer in line with the guitar. It was still beautiful, but she knew it was wrong, and we knew it was wrong, so it created a tension while we all watched her play and waited to see what she’d do about it. At the end of her first piece, she got up and notified Beth that it was off, and apologized to the crowd, acknowledging that the show is still evolving, and there are a lot of moving parts. Beth came up and adjusted the projector, and all was well, and the show continued.
During the show, so many things were displayed on the screen and the guitar – spirals, bubbles, street scenes, subways, boats at harbor, drawings, stunning computer-generated visual effects, etc., that it was easy to forget that there was a true guitar virtuoso up there on stage, making it all happen. She could play her songs on the stage, just herself, without visual effects, and those who appreciate music and playing ability would be just as amazed. Instead, she’s breaking new ground in this show, titled “The Neck is the Bridge to the Body.”
In the middle of the show, she inserted an adorable little show-within-the-show, a movie on the back screen about what it’s like, from the guitar’s point of view, to grow up as a weird little guitar, and how it perceives itself among a world of older, cooler looking guitars. The guitar’s “words” were projected on the guitar itself, as she “played” note for word. The cutest part of that video was seeing the guitar’s family in her home. They were all a bunch of other exotic Ovations, and their sounds were appropriately unusual, squawky and jangly and non-traditional. I suspect others who have spent some time around guitars would have loved that story.
Another piece seemed to be displaying postcards Kaki has received (from friends? from fans?) on the guitar as she played.
Kaki’s encore was a piece about the Philae lander that descended from the Rosetta spacecraft and LANDED ON A FUCKING COMET. With appropriate space debris visuals on the big screen.
Kaki is changing the face of guitar. Literally.