Reviews for Bichromial
for Scalar Fields
See the APM article as it appeared in Acoustic Player Magazine
See the APM magazine cover
Acoustic Player Magazine, USA; 2005:
APM REVIEW: Kevin Kastning: Bichromial, by Mike Harris. "When Kevin
Kastning, guitarist/composer, says that the music on his album “Bichromial”
is hard to categorize, he hits the nail right on the head.
This characterization is in no way a bad thing. But it does speak to the fact that this style of music requires commitment on the part of the listener as well as the musicians.
Anyone who approaches Kastning's music, expecting traditional compositional structure or forms, could initially be puzzled by the freshness of its sounds. But the listener with an open mind and a sense of adventure will be delighted to discover that Kastning's music evolves from simple, cell-like beginnings into a complex and fascinating interplay between two guitars. If you liken this sonic experience to sitting through a film that seemed hard to follow in its early scenes, but paid off big in the end, you get a good idea of how this process of personal investment in art can work.
While Kastning's music might be best suited for listeners with a taste for the cerebral in their music, those who have appreciated the intellectual works from artists such as Robert Fripp, Frank Zappa, Ornette Coleman or Anthony Braxton will be well-equipped to delve into Kastning's "Bichromial." Perhaps even closer analogies to Kastning's new music would be the duets of John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders, minus the rhythm section. “Bichromial” does not sound exactly like the work of these artists as much there is a thread of kinship that is evident in its boldness and invention. Did I mention that it’s hard to categorize?
The main influence I heard in Kastning's album is that of the modern innovator John Cage, a man who is well-known in classical music circles—and virtually unheard of in “the real world.” Using a compositional approached known as "open form," Kevin and his duet partner Siegfried throw riffs and motifs back and forth, the results at times resembling the interaction between two dancers; at others, a face-off between two boxers. There is no empty virtuosity here as dialog and development are the order of the day. While some of the eighteen tracks on the album would make for satisfying listening in their own right, the pieces on "Bichromial" are better appreciated in the context of the whole.
Sonically, "Bichromial" is a treat. It is recorded with an extreme pan, with one guitarist relegated hard to the right channel and the other to the left. So, rather than reproducing an idealized stereo soundstage, each speaker basically acts as a single guitar. A touch of digital reverb was added in the mix and works quite well.
Throughout the album, Kevin Kastning uses three guitars from the Santa Cruz line (he is an SCGC artist endorser): a 2000 Model D, a 2003 OM (both custom made to his specs), and a 2002 Baritone tuned to ADGCEA. Siegfried played two Martins: a 1998 D1 and a 2000 000-1. The guitars sound great in every combination.
Kastning has also written solo sonatas for piano and chamber music for string trio, string quartet, and wind quintet. His work has been performed by the London Chamber Group, which also commissioned from him a new piece to be performed next year.
Kastning's compositional influences and inspiration come from a variety of 20th-century artists—from composers to writers (Joyce and Proust) to painters (Jackson Pollock). More information about Kevin Kastning, his music and MP3 samples from "Bichromial" are available at www.kevinkastning.com."
Amazon.com, USA: "Bichromial is a work of art. Each time I listen to it, I am treated to a deep and thoughtfully nuanced aural experience, with new subtleties revealing themselves on every track. The overarching feeling of this disk is one of precision, technical excellence and spare and crisp instrumentation. Kastning and Siegfried play together effortlessly on instruments of deep and rich tone. Perfect disk for imbibing a steamin' mug of dark French roast on a rainy fall day." (5 stars) - Review from amazon.com
Bridge Guitar Review, The Netherlands, November 2004: Kastning/Siegfried Bichromial (2004 Greydisc) "When one is used to listen to the average finger-style music or a renewing classical approach in guitar music will encounter that Kevin Kastning and Siegfried have chosen a renewing experimental setup in their guitar music which is played in duets. The music cannot be described as agitating or calming but more as deeply improvisational graving interplay in 18 parts. The atmosphere they create is one of painting songs in melancholic and abstract mindscapes. The compositions are inter-related. Kevin Kastning plays three different types of Santa Cruz acoustic guitars and Siegfried plays 2 acoustic Martin guitars. The recording is extremely well-done. The chemistry between Kastning and Siegfried is remarkable and both players dig deep into their soul and one feels a profound conversation between the guitarists going on. Feelings of hope, desire and fear and loneliness can be felt in their music and the goal seems to be to confront the listener to cadenced inner visions. The music reflects a pioneering art, creating new dimensions and adding new impulses to acoustic guitar music." - Bridge Guitar Reviews, The Netherlands
Minor7th magazine, November 2004, USA: "Bichromial, 2004: The avant-garde composer John Cage was profoundly influenced by a maxim of one of his teachers: that the purpose of music is "to sober and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences." Kevin Kastning and Siegfried, on "Bichromial," follow in Cage's tradition with an austere collection of acoustic guitar duets which challenge a listener's preconceptions about the nature of music. Through-composed; no passages or themes are repeated. The result gives the impression of spontaneous but unhurried improvisational interplay, and is synchronously quieting and disquieting." - Minor 7th magazine
News UK, October 2004: "Bichromial probably isn’t, in terms of what normally gets
reviewed on music-news, exactly par for the course… To begin with, if you are
someone that particularly appreciates convention, you should consider this one a
challenge: Firstly, the lack of track titles may be a little baffling; secondly,
the further absence of liner notes only adds to the sense of disorientation;
thirdly, beyond the packaging we have the music which although intriguing,
captivating and often exquisite, is unlikely to have the milkman whistling
The CD contains 18 through-composed tracks (or studies in open form if you prefer). The 18 studies (all composed by the duo) are brief, interweaving vignettes that allow both performers to illustrate their virtuosity perfectly, whether using 6-string acoustic guitars, or utilising the more sonorous earthiness of Kastning’s acoustic baritone (‘earthiness’ being a quality added to by the ‘no-frills’ stereo production ethic gives the record a pleasing organic sympathy).
Kastning states on his website (worth a look for the glorious ‘images’ page) that he believes artists to be ‘directly influenced by their environment and surroundings’. This belief is well played out within Bichromial, where interspersing, slow, autumnal textures and spindly, complicated fretwork perfectly represent the melancholic ambience of the artists’ resident Massachusetts landscape.
In spite of all this, however, Kastning, in his mix, has opted to split the respective guitar parts rather severely across stereo channels (hence the title?) – put headphones on and you’ll have Kastning sitting on your left shoulder and Siegfried comfortably balancing on your right. I would have preferred a more sensitive mix allowing the listener to enjoy a more realistic ‘live’ recreation, whereas what we have during some of the faster interactions or call/response sequences is a slightly uncomfortable see-saw effect – that said, during the more densely textured sections of ‘Open Form No. 5’ for example, the stereo spread works quite nicely, I just recommend that you ditch the headphones for the album as a whole…
Bichromial is perhaps difficult to understand (and arguably unsuccessful) if you’re looking for immediacy, but if you hit the repeat button I challenge you to notice where it begins and ends, and therein lies the beauty of open form composition – like a landscape, there are no recognizable patterns or repetitions, or in a musical sense, verses, choruses or motifs. In the place of musical regulation Kastning/Siegfried offer (through the format of a duet) texture upon texture, line upon line, shadow upon shadow, and in doing so have made music that is rather brilliant in it’s use of metaphor, with the larger musical canvas of the overall work being offset by underpinning, intricate sketches that hold the larger picture together (kind of like the perfect landscape painting). Bichromial is a particularly lovely collection of work and a fine record for the onset of winter – find some time and enjoy it." (4 stars) - Music News UK
New Music Box magazine, USA, November 2004: Bichromial (CD review Pick of the
Picture yourself sitting in an empty room; your chair placed sideways betweens two guitarists. You now have a pretty accurate sonic image of the experience of listening to Kevin Kastning and Siegfried's Bichromial, a quiet 18-track meditation without programmatic reference of any sort (the disc comes sans liner notes, though the truly interested can hunt up further info on Kastning's website).
The bit of fine print included with the disc does clarify that the two instrumentalists split the stereo output: Kastning (on acoustic guitar and baritone guitar) takes the left channel and Siegfried (also on acoustic guitar) the right. Paradoxically, a manipulation only possible on recording makes the duets sound closer to a live performance.
The disc encompasses over an hour of numbered "Open Form" pieces, most hovering between three and four minutes in length. Stylistically they flow seamlessly into one another, too articulate to be labeled ambient yet cohesive enough to feel like a single organic work broken down into movements. - Featured Composer section, New Music Box Magazine
CDBaby.com, Australia: "Bichromial: This album is simply beautiful. These are the sounds of colour, the rhythms of wind blown leaves, the melodies of cells dividing, the themetrack to a still and sunny autumn afternoon sitting back with a glass of red wine contemplating the universe." (5 stars) - Review from CD Baby
"It's very wonderful to listen to and meditate; it's a calming sound." - Jane Bouvier, host of Around Town Live on Groton TV
"Bichromial is the only CD I keep in my Bose CD player in my office." - Dr. A. William Heinser, M.D.; Groton, MA
"What a relaxing, meditative delight your CD is. Your CD plays in background... gentle..." - Architect David Schurman; Berlin, Germany
"Very, very nice stuff (and very well played!). It's a beautiful recording. I suggest everyone check it out." - Dr. David Bishop, University of Arizona
Kevin Kastning: Artist of the Month, October 2004, The 13th Fret.
Bichromial has been added to amazon.com's Amazon Early Adopter Indie list, a ranking of the 100 top-selling independent CD releases.