Meet Kaki King, The Musician Who Transforms Her Guitar Into A Sonic Paintbrush

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Welcome back to Uncharted, an Uproxx original series highlighting the best artists you haven’t heard of, yet. With the support of our friends at Honda, we are following some of the best emerging talent as they follow their dreams and make great music.

Every generation features its fair share of great guitarists. But how many guitarists can you think of whose talent is so undeniably massive… that one sense cannot contain them?

That’s exactly where Kaki King stands. Listeners have spent over a decade marveling at the sheer amount of sounds the guitarist can pull out of her instrument at once. While her impressive run of intricate, finger-picked guitar compositions hasn’t made King a household name, she has become a musician’s musician earning co-signs from megastars like Dave Grohl.

After King opened for the Foo Fighters at London’s O2 Arena, the rock n’ roll veteran told the crowd that he considered King to be on a planet all her own.

“There are some guitar players that are good, and there are some guitar players that are really fucking good. And then there’s Kaki King.”

That’s a level of praise that would cause some artists to take a well-deserved break. But King isn’t ready to stop pushing herself forward. The guitarist, who has spent eight (please check) albums wresting impossible textures and soundscapes from her instrument, is ready to go one step further: pulling actual light and color out of her vibrant, sonic compositions like a synesthete sorcerer.

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In The Neck Is A Bridge To The Body, King uses her guitar as a controller, triggering visuals that are projected onto the guitar as she plays.

King says she first began to draw inspiration from the visual world after getting corrective surgery on her eyes in 2008. After 30 years of living with poor eyesight, the musician was moved by her new way to look at the world.

“Suddenly brights were brighter and darks were darker…Now when I see things I can compose to what I see, that’s never happened before.”

While King doesn’t attribute the decision to incorporate new and interesting visuals into her live show to her improved eyesight, she did admit that she can’t say she’d be doing The Neck otherwise.

King says the true push for the show that became The Neck came from something simple.

“It started with just wanting to add lighting. I was doing the research. I really didn’t know what it meant and what was available,” she said.

That deep dive into lighting rigs eventually landed King on ‘projection mapping,’ the process of projecting images onto a surface that isn’t a flat screen. (For a recent example: think of Lady Gaga’s face at the beginning of her David Bowie tribute). That spawned the idea for The Neck and kicked off a long process of collaboration between King and a technical team (Glowing Pictures), who worked on getting her visuals just right.

King said matching music to visuals was “a bit of a chicken and egg kind of thing” and “a collaborative process all the way through.” She would send the team music and an idea of the visuals she wanted to accompany the music and when the visuals came back they would cause her to tweak the songs based on what she was seeing.

So far, all that tinkering is paying off. The end effect of Kaki using her guitar as both sonic paintbrush and canvas is already generating rave reviews.

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Even though audiences are still trying to put their heads back on straight after catching Kaki’s performance, the guitarist continues to push forward and envision new visuals as she becomes more adept at the projection/controller technology.

“I think the show will deserve a round two in some form,” she said. “We’ve barely scratched the surface of what we can do. We could light the guitar from the inside…turn the guitar into a light controlling theremin…Anything you can dream of… you can do.”

That sentiment might sound trite to more cynical ears. But when it comes from a guitarist as skilled as Kaki King — someone who has managed to make a show as wild as The Neck a reality — it would be foolish to doubt it.

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