IMAGES: To download, click above. Photo three from the performance of “Fair” at 211 South in Bentonville, Arkansas May 2022. Photo credits courtesy of the artist.




Fair is an experimental expansion of just-intonated electric guitar from Untight, an improvisation-driven sound art project by Arkansas-based artist and musician Sam King. This limited-edition cassette, which includes individually hand-drawn and editioned covers, documents a cathartic half hour, rich with sonic images of grief, dread, bliss and release.

Recorded live in 2023 at a visual art exhibition of King’s work as a painter, he remembers feeling fully emptied out, barely even able to talk to the audience afterwards.

“It astounds me how directly this music connects me to the feelings of that time, including the joy of being in the company of so many fellow art and music makers, friends, and loved ones,” he says. “Remembering fills me with gratitude.”

King plays a custom-built baritone guitar intonated with both the full 12-tone equal temperament scale and intervals of the natural harmonic series, drawing inspiration from composers and improvisers such as La Monte Young and Glenn Branca. “Hearing The Well-Tuned Piano for the first time was an utterly transformative experience. Almost immediately, I wondered how something like this could work on the guitar.” King deploys looping and delay effects to create big clouds of sound that shimmer with microtonal frictions, complemented by spare passages of resonant harmonic tension.

King’s appreciation for contemporary composers/improvisers such as Mary Halvorson, Owen Gardner (Horse Lords), Bill Orcutt, and Susan Alcorn complements the formative impression of bands like The Minutemen and Fugazi. A cofounder /-operator of Lalaland, a small DIY space in Fayetteville, AR, in the 2010s, King hosted shows for Guerilla Toss, Uke of Spaces Corners, Spray Paint, JOBS, Lungs Face Feet, and Justin Clifford Rhody, among many others. He was drawn to improvisation for its power to upend the hierarchy often perceived in western music of composer-over-performer and to collapse the time between idea and execution, infusing the playing experience with urgency and vulnerability.

“I recognize that communicating through music requires finding common ground with the listener, and at the same time, I feel an instinct to challenge or destabilize it,” he says. “Playing guitar this way makes many clichés unavailable, or at least impractical.”

“I’m not a virtuoso to begin with, and these changes to the instrument make my relationship to it more tenuous,” he explains. King often uses delay and loop pedals to build a dense network of sound. Instead of verse-chorus-verse or twelve-bar blues, it’s a rainstorm, a global population check, or a glimpse at the hardware that supports the data cloud.

“Exchanging a known system for something more complicated, less familiar, with greater potential both for alienating failures and for unexpected connections, is an attempt to participate genuinely and positively in a complex world that is simultaneously host to unfathomable suffering and ecstatic joy.”