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Kaki King Combines Experimental Theatre And New Technology In Upcoming Performance ‘Data Not Found’

Kaki King performs at the Ferst Center for the Arts on Georgia Tech’s campus on Oct. 23.
Kaki King performs at the Ferst Center for the Arts on Georgia Tech’s campus on Oct. 23.
Credit Sham Hinchey & Marzia Messina

Atlanta has the honor of sending forth a long roster of some of America’s most noteworthy musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries, and Kaki King is genuinely like no other. In 2006, Rolling Stone Magazine called King a “new guitar god,” sharing ranks with John Mayer and other respected guitarists of recent decades. She was the only female and the youngest on Rolling Stone’s list. Now, 15 years later, Kaki King is pushing the limits of what it means to be a guitarist by interweaving experimental theater and new technology into her performances. She performs her new multimedia piece, “Data Not Found,” at the Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech on Saturday, Oct. 23. King joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about her journey to the outermost reaches of the guitar’s possibilities and how her new show blurs boundaries in music, theater, and personal expression.

Interview highlights:

What to expect when taking in ‘Data Not Found’ and King’s other new multimedia performances:

“Not only do I have visuals on the guitar, I have them on a tent. I have them on the floor. I have a much larger media palette, so the world that I’m in on stage is much more fascinating. I’ve got all the theatrical elements – I have lines, I have blocking, I have cues to hit, all at the same time playing my guitar and doing what I do and triggering other media with the guitar. So I play a note, and that makes you see something happen,” said King. “It’s quite a lot; it’s very much outside my comfort zone, and I just know that that’s the place where I do the best work.”

“The focal point of everything I do is the guitar. The guitar made me everything that I am and gave me the life that I have, so without respecting that relationship… I feel very lost. So it’s still a way of expression through who I am and the instrument that I think, frankly, chose me,” King mused. “But it does allow me to continue this journey with the guitar, that is, ‘What can it be? What can the guitar do that it hasn’t done yet? How can it help someone in a different way? Can it become a window? Can it become a door? Can it become a swirling mass of jellyfish?’”

How COVID changed and deepened the meaning of ‘Data Not Found’:

“Every single facet of the show is being looked at in a new lens because so much of the show, whether it be from the text to the visual elements, has to do with loss and outlines, and what is left when people leave, when species leave,” said King. “So dealing with this unbelievable amount of loss for everything is going to have to be re-processed as we, in a way… rebuild the show for this era. There is no avoiding it or getting around it. Certain lines are going to land very differently. So once we get into rehearsals, we are going to be looking very carefully at every part of the show.”

“At this point, I’m not sure if it’s even helpful to explain the origin of the title, because again, the world has changed so deeply. But it had to do with a project that I did with a friend when my daughter had an auto-immune disorder. And it was a data collection project, and ultimately [what] the stage show became,” King said. “It took a little bit of a different direction, but it tied into this data visualization project that we had done. So we knew that data had this kind of relevance to the show. But I think at this point, again, the reevaluation of life itself and art itself is heavily taking place, so I hope to have a better idea of what ‘Data Not Found’ means in the post-pandemic or current-pandemic world… depending on where you are.”

On new players in a long-male-dominated field:

“Things have changed, so I want to just focus on the good news, which is that many more women have, in the interim [since 2006], taken up the guitar, are purchasing guitars. Guitar marketing is much more geared towards women than it ever has been. And the result is that there are so many more amazing, amazing women players and composers than there were on the scene when I was coming up, so that’s the really good news…. Why aren’t there more women in X-Y-Z? STEM? Medicine? Whatever?…. There’s a shifting tide that we’re seeing right now with a lot of things, and I think that women and the guitar are part of that.”

Kaki King performs “Data Not Found,” a new multimedia musical and theatrical experience, at the Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech on Oct. 23. More information and tickets are available here.