Arts / Media / Software

Here’s the tech behind Brooklyn’s most inventive music-art show [Preview]

20 years in the making, video performance pioneers at Glowing Pictures put the final touches on Kaki King's new projection mapped guitar concert, "The Neck Is A Bridge To The Body."

The team at Glowing Pictures has hacked together a bunch of technology to give King's new show its look and flexibility. Photo by Brady Dale.

To find the studio of Kaki King, one of Brooklyn’s most inventive guitarists and electronic artists, you’ll need to take three flights of creaky stairs and slip around the back stage of a theater space in Williamsburg. There, you’ll enter a room filled with enough guitars to open a small shop, and, these days, nearly as many computers.

She’s launching a new storytelling projection project.

“This allows me to continue to play guitar, be a guitarist,” she said. “No part of that changes, yet the level of expression is enhanced by so much.”

“I feel like we are trying to create something very intimate with this show. Which is kind of the opposite of what most people think of with these large scale video shows like you see at electronic music festivals,” said V Owen Bush, one of the Glowing Pictures cofounders. Bush and his cofounder, Benton-C Bainbridge, have designed the tech and visuals and will perform live video at King’s upcoming debut of the new video and guitar performance.

Listening to Kaki King and the team at Glowing Pictures discuss the final adjustments they were making to, “The Neck Is A Bridge To The Body,” which will have its world premier at BRIC Arts and Media Center on March 6th, it was almost like listening to a team of software makers discuss an Agile Management strategy for getting a proven minimum viable product ready to show investors.

They talked about finding fixes for immediate problems but keeping it loose enough that they could continue to explore how the show works in its earliest performances.

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To recap: King’s new show will consist of her innovative guitar play, songs from her upcoming album, but they will be accented by images and video projected both on the wall behind her and onto the guitar itself. So that the images are designed to match the guitar, as their intended display surface.

Benton-C Bainbridge, one of the cofounders of Glowing Pictures, the two-man company running the tech behind the show, said they do plan to move incrementally toward a more fixed set, but not until they really know what’s working with the audiences and what their tech setup can handle under real show conditions.

We covered King’s crowdfunding campaign for the project, which beat its $25,000 goal by $18,000. The Glowing Pictures team invited us up to King’s studio to have a look at what they are putting together and talk about how it works behind the scenes. Before we get to those details, though, here’s a half minute of preview video:

Kaki King spoke to the value she sees in this new layer, “I think the thing that has meant the most to me, with this white guitar, wearing all these different skins, it’s this beautiful window to examine art or life or metaphor, or the guitar itself.”

Here are some of the aspects that they are putting together to make the projections work in sync with King’s play:

  • During certain parts of the show, they are using software to listen to the notes King plays, convert them to MIDI signals and match those up with videos that are fed back out in projections. This allows King to bring her improvisational prowess into the show but still complement it with the sort of visuals that will run throughout.
  • They’ve hacked together what they are calling a “performance server” on several different Macintosh systems, capable of outputting multiple channels of video. Bainbridge told us that despite advances in computing, they have it right at the edge of what the system can handle.
  • They’ve used MadMapper to scan the guitar with cameras so that they can use a short throw projector to put images on the guitar, precisely. The guitar is fixed in place while Kaki plays it, to simplify projection.
  • King has also put together a set of Littlebits modules, hidden at the edge of her guitar, to give her the ability to create some unexpected sounds out of the instrument over the course of the show.
  • VDMX, a set of performance software, allows them to run a kind of visual music, with some custom software built into it. One of VDMX’s inventors is Brooklynite, David Lublin.
  • The guitar is going to talk to the audience during one piece, telling the story of its life and talking to other Williamsburg guitars (in music, with subtitles).

Here are some photos we took during our preview of her performance, inside her practice studio.

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“Right now, we are finding the best visual accompaniment or counterpoint to Kaki’s performance, we are very much making decisions on the fly,” Bainbridge told us.

King’s first album came out in 2003. D. James Goodwin, the producer of the album that will come out of this show, stopped by the studio while we were there. Bainbridge and Bush told us that they founded Glowing Pictures together about nine years ago. They first worked together on a show at The Knitting Factory in the mid-90s. Bush said, back then, using computers mostly wasn’t viable, though Bainbridge said he used an Amiga in his shows back then.

In the early days, the people experimenting with complementing music with video was small but tight. “We’ve been anticipating this moment for 20 years,” Bush said.


Series: Brooklyn

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