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Kaki King is turning her guitar into a movie screen

“The guitar is its own influence….the guitar is really telling me what to do and what to say. I’m not exactly in charge in that relationship.”

Guitarist Kaki King has been touring for years, but this time she’s giving her guitar centre stage. In her new show, King uses projection mapping to make a movie screen out of her guitar, a white-on-white Ovation Adamas 1581-KK. And, yes, the ‘KK’ does stand for Kaki King.

“This show is influenced by the guitar itself,” says King. “Nine records in, I’m not really at a point where I’m looking outside of me for influences. I think the guitar is its own influence. What the show is saying is that the guitar is really telling me what to do and what to say. I’m not exactly in charge in that relationship, and that’s what’s reflected in the show.”

In her show The Neck Is a Bridge to the Body, images both trippy and realistic dance across King’s instrument: spirals, starbursts, a pottery wheel and a swarm of bees. The guitar is fixed in place during the show, so that visuals can be precisely projection-mapped onto its surface. Here, King’s music is earthy and meditative, with eerie reverberations reminiscent of SQÜRL or Bauhaus.

“If you sit towards the back – which I recommend – you can take in everything simultaneously,” says King. “The guitar coming to life visually in this way is just stunning, even to me, after all this time. I’ll look at the guitar, and it looks unreal. It doesn’t look like it should exist. It’s really thrilling. This is a show unlike any other; it’s a show for music lovers as well as people who are interested in looking at things.”

Anyone who’s spent a Christmas in Melbourne has seen how projection mapping can turn the side of a building into art. King wanted to see if the technology could work on a smaller scale, and partnered with visual production house Glowing Pictures to craft the show.

“Projection mapping is usually in an architectural space,” says King. “I thought, ‘This is really fabulous, but how could this be applied to me?’ Then it popped into my head. ‘Can this be done on a guitar? Can it travel? Can it be stable?’ There were a lot of logistical questions that had to be answered before anything else.”

However, when King first pitched the project about two years ago, the reaction was lukewarm.

“The people that I worked with at the time really didn’t get it,” says King. “They didn’t see what the show was, what it promised, how it changed me as an artist. But, fortunately, that led to me changing people, and getting some people that understood that this wasn’t just Kaki plus visuals – it was a whole new thing, completely unique in the world.”

King plans to follow up The Neck Is a Bridge to the Body with a larger and more elaborate visually-driven show titled Data Not Found. Using visualisations to draw meaning from data, the new show will attempt to navigate the seas of information in which most of us currently flounder. Max Bernstein, who helped craft the dynamic visuals for The Neck Is a Bridge to the Body, will be designing animations and other visuals for the new show.

Any artist touring Australia is, naturally, obligated to say how much they love the friendly Aussie crowds and beautiful landscapes, and King is no exception. However, King’s sincerity is shown by the fact that she’s visited the Land Down Under 11 times before, once for her honeymoon. The pinnacles and white sand dunes of Western Australia are among her favourite landscapes, she says.

“For me, it’s the access to this amazing urban culture that’s incredibly with-it and savvy, but you’re also steps away from an exotic landscape,” she explains. “Of all the audiences around the world, I think [the show] is built for an Australian audience more than anything. It has both the classiness and the precision of what you might expect from Australian theatre, as well as the excitement and joy with which Australians always seem to experience music. There won’t be many performances of this show after Australia. I couldn’t be happier that it’s coming to Oz.

Catch Kaki King with Marc Ribot at Melbourne Recital Centre on Monday August 13.