Kastning and Mark Wingfield Wrangle The Void
Musical improvisation assumes countless formsóthough nearly always
within predetermined contexts. Jazz improvisers typically adhere to the
currently agreed-upon vocabulary of their idiom, as do bluesmen,
flamencos, country pickers, and baroque improvisers. Even ďfreeĒ
improvisation, somewhat ironically, constitutes a genre.
When performing and recording together, Kevin Kastning and Mark
Wingfield join a far-smaller group of adventurous souls who improvise
without a contextual net. Each still brings his specific background,
facility, and musical proclivities to the process, of courseóbut the
context is created concurrently with the composition in real time.
ďAlthough we may discuss the general approach leading up to a session,
we essentially have no idea what we are going to play when the recording
light goes on,Ē says Wingfield. ďIn one sense what we do is completely
freeform, but in another sense it really isnít. Itís about letting the
music emerge, hearing or knowing what should happen next, and doing our
utmost to facilitate that.Ē
Indeed, the duoís music possesses an uncanny cohesion and compositional
authority that may only partially be explained by the fact that the two
are both highly accomplished jazz and classical composers as well as
Furthermore, while Kastning and Wingfield strive to transcend the
limitations of conventional musical forms, they also strive to transcend
the traditional limitations of their instruments.
In addition to nylon-string classical guitar, Kastning plays an
ever-expanding array of unique acoustic stringed instruments that
includes 12-string Extended Baritone guitar, Bass Baritone guitar,
12-string Alto guitar, 15-string Extended Classical guitar, 16- and
17-string Contraguitars, 30-string Contra-Soprano guitar, and 36-string
Double Contraguitar (the latter two, double-neck, instruments are
constructed of carbon fiber rather than wood). The custom instruments
are tuned in a variety of ways, and each tuning is as singular as the
Wingfield has foresworn conventional guitar amplifiers, effects pedals,
and even pickups for a pair of Roland VG-88 V-Guitar Systems, combined
with a laptop loaded with sophisticated software processors. His
electric guitar is fitted with dual MIDI pickups, as well as a VMeter
MIDI touch strip and a Sustainiac electromagnetic sustainer. Besides
providing him with an expansive sonic palette, this system enables
Wingfield to radically alter the ways in which he articulates notes and
phrases, as well as to craft tones and timbres reminiscent of
instruments such as horns and woodwinds, in addition more guitar-like
ďBlending Markís unique electric guitar voices with my extended-range
instruments and unorthodox tunings creates something very special,Ē says
Kastning. ďThe resulting pieces just take on an organic life of their
The spontaneous compositions on the duoís fourth release, In
Stories [Greydisc], as
on its three previous recordings, are uniqueóand open-minded listeners
who surrender to their subtle gravitational pull will find themselves
entering hitherto unexplored realms of uncommon beauty and
multidimensionality. Intricate and frequently sublime structures
mysteriously appear and dissolve in the sonic ether like audible
automatic writing, comprising shimmering harmonic clusters, dark pools
of brooding dissonances, swirling eddies of polytonality, delicate
microtonal wave fluctuations, and myriad other serendipitous
Apart from working together, Kastning and Wingfield are active on
numerous additional musical fronts.
Kastning has collaborated with a bevy of innovative improvisers from
acoustic guitarists SŠndor Szabů and Siegfried to hyperbassist Michael
Manring to saxophonist/flautist Carl Clements. His third album with
Clements, the exquisiteWatercolor
Sky [Greydisc], was
released last year. Wingfield has worked with an equally prestigious
assortment of artists, including harpsichordist Jane Chapman,
saxophonist Ian Ballamy, bassist Yaron Stavi, and drummer Asaf Sirkis.
His latest release, the majestic Proof
of Light [Moonjune],
successfully revivifies the endangered corpus of jazz-rock fusion.
Mark Wingfield, 6-string electric guitar (L),
Kevin Kastning, 17-string Contraguitar (R), Live on-air at WFMU radio,
New York City. November 2013
You both have various other musical involvements apart from your duo. Do
you approach your projects together differently than the others?
Wingfield: Yes. I
approach working with Kevin differently because the music we play
together is entirely improvised and everything else I do involves
planned and written elements such as melodies, chord progressions, and
rhythmic structures. There may be a lot of improvisation, but it is
taking place within a predetermined harmonic context and I know ahead of
time which notes and structures I have available to improvise with.
Kastning: I approach
every project I do differently. I try to sense what each one needs, and
then to provide those things. That includes choosing specific
instruments and tunings, and then selecting microphones and the overall
studio setup based on those choices. All of my tunings are my own
inventions and for any given session I might use as many as four
different Contraguitar tunings, plus the octave Contra tuning, and the
various Alto guitar tunings.
What do you get out of working with each other that you donít get when
working with others?
Wingfield: I would
say brownies, mainly. Kevinís brownie baking is unsurpassed, at least
from a British point of view [laughs].
In all seriousness, though, there are several things about working with
Kevin that are unique. First, he has created completely new sound worlds
with his singular instruments and tunings and his extremely original
harmonic vision and orchestral approach to them, as well as to the
Equally important is Kevinís ability to improvise so fluently. He can
change direction instantly and go wherever the music takes us. Weíll
suddenly come across some new musical landscape and Iíll think, ďYes, I
know this place,Ē and Kevin just seems to hear the same musical place
and play what is needed for us to create it.
Thereís a continuous to-and-fro form to our improvisation. I may lead
the way for a few notes or phrases, with Kevin sensing where Iím going
and painting the landscape, and then he will lead the way and I will
follow him, embellishing what he is creating. At other times we both
just begin playing something simultaneously. The process is a
continually changing combination of these things.
You might say that we are composing together in the moment. We arenít
sitting there deciding what should come next, or trying to fit
preconceived musical ideas into what we are playing, which never works,
but rather sensing what the music wants us to play and doing that with
as much fidelity as possible.
way of putting it is that our goal is to serve the music while
simultaneously staying out of its way. For example, if Iím playing a
bass line thatís supporting the current direction of the piece, and
consequently the piece is moving forward on its own, if I were to
suddenly jump to some other musical idea that I thought Iíd like to try,
it may not be what the piece was asking for, and the whole thing could
collapse. The process is much like a river meander that occurs
organically in nature, in that the direction and path canít be
controlled. This transpersonal quality of the experience becomes evident
when listening back to a recording for the first time, as much of what I
hear isnít anything that I remember playing.
As for what I get from working with Mark, each artist with whom Iíve
been blessed to collaborate brings their own approach, voice, and
directionótheir soul and spiritóand there are musical situations that
occur with Mark that donít occur with anyone else.
For one thing, Mark takes mostly a single-line approach when working
with me, rather than playing chords, which is unusual for a guitarist.
That can be challenging in that I have to construct supporting
structures under those lines, and interweave my own lines with his when
required. He also creates lush soundscapes or sonic environments that
can sometimes be unfamiliar and even disconcerting, which will force me
to reach for new colors and shadings that Iíd likely otherwise never
Additionally, we have both composed extensively for classical settings
such as orchestras and string quartets, so we naturally take more of a
co-composer approach when improvising. We both have composer DNA
coursing through us, and consequently we see everything we do through
composer eyes, and we shape and build each improvised piece as a
compositionóalbeit a real-time composition.
If the music comes from someplace else and you are trying to sense what
it wants and get out of its way, how can you simultaneously shape and
build each piece as a composition?
Wingfield: It feels like
the music comes from somewhere else, though not in the sense of actually
preexisting somewhere. And I am simultaneously getting out of the way
and shaping itóbut not shaping it in the normal conscious way. The
compositional shaping is done by my unconscious. All that my
conscious mind perceives is a feeling, a sense, or I hear notes I should
play. I am putting to one side the part of me that wants to make
something specific happen, the part that consciously thinks, plans,
judges, censors, etc. Unless I get my thinking mind out of the way the
process will be partially or completely blocked.
How do the ideas form? Who knows? Thatís the mystery of improvisation
What is different playing with Kevin is that the composing part of
my subconscious is as actively involved as the guitarist part. I am
feeling and sensing as in other improvisational settings, only creating
larger and more complete structures.
Kastning: For me,
the music absolutely comes from somewhere else. But as I act as the
conduit and allow it into this physical plane of existence, there is
some shaping and molding of the piece. I am a human and quite imperfect,
so as the music passes through me, my human imperfections make an
imprint on it in the translation process. As much as Iíd rather it was
otherwise, this is the only way it can be. I shape and form it as it
passes from wherever it exists, into our physical plane.
Another way of looking at it is that while I am listening to the music
and sensing the development of the composition, I react, and that
reaction has an impact on the composition, which I continually hear and
sense, and then react to, creating what might be viewed as a
contrapuntal feedback loop. That process continues organically,
resulting in the composition.
And the process is very similar when Iím composing on paper. In one case
I am composing in real time, and in the other I am notóbut the primary
difference is the media. One medium is manuscript paper and the other is
Daniel Roberts Stringworks Kevin Kastning model C1 17-string
Contraguitar (2010), Daniel Roberts Stringworks Kevin Kastning
model C2 16-string Contraguitar (2011), Cervantes Rodriguez
Concert classical guitar (2008), Emerald Kevin Kastning
Signature model 36-string Double Contraguitar (2014), Emerald
Kevin Kastning Signature model 30-string Contra-Alto guitar
(2013), left to right. For additional information visit kevinkastning.com
In Stories is
your fourth collaboration album. In what ways did making it differ from
making your previous recordings in terms of both intent and execution?
record has involved a different approach or direction. For example, for
our 2013 release, Dark
Sonatas, we acknowledged the impact of classical composer Elliott
Carter, and that music was the densest and most angular weíve yet
recorded. For In
Stories, we decided to take more of a melodic or lyrical approach,
which was a radical diversion from our previous projects. We discussed
what melodic and lyrical concepts meant to us, and how to be more
cognizant of them.
What percentage of the improvised music you record do you feel meets
your standard for release?
Wingfield: About 90
percent. From any given session there will be the occasional piece that
we donít feel worked as well as weíd like. Or, maybe it was good but
covered similar ground as another piece in the session. We record three
or four hours of material in each two-day session, however, so not
everything we consider releasable from a session gets released right
away. We choose the tracks that we feel work together well given the
overall direction of a particular album.
Kastning: We think
of our albums as single unified compositions containing various pieces,
like movements in a symphony. The unreleased pieces arenít better or
worse than those that are releasedóthey just may not fit into a specific
unused material will eventually be released. Since our first session in
2010, we have managed to arrange a session each year, and release an
album from each one, which leaves at least one additional albumís worth
of releasable music from each year. Should there be a year in which we
are unable to record, we plan to release an albumís worth of material
from those previous sessions. We may also release an album of ďoddballĒ
pieces that we really like, but that donít necessarily fit into a given
Emerald Guitars Kevin Kastning Signature Series 15-string Extended
You mentioned that your backgrounds as composers result in your thinking
compositionally while improvising. Can you elaborate on that?
Kastning: I may play
a single note or a single chord, but that note or chord doesnít exist in
isolation. Iím always hearing it as it relates to or fits into an
overall compositional structure, or how it might lead to a new direction
within that structure.
There is also considerable overlap in Mark and Iís influences and we
sometimes discuss particular composers for hours on end. So, if one of
us makes a reference to, for instance, a particular composerís harmonic
concept or approach to orchestration, we know what the other is
referring to. One example of this is the Elliott Carter influence
Sonatas. And we also have a full album of unreleased material that
was influenced by the work of composer Morton Feldman.
Wingfield: I agree
that the fact that we both tend to think compositionally has a lot to do
with why our improvisations work so well. And I agree about the
classical influences, too, though the overlap extends to jazz and many
other forms of music, as well, and that common language also connects
our musical ideas while we are improvising. So, if one of us creates a
musical idea or atmosphere, or we play something together that creates a
new musical idea, we are likely to have a similar recognition and
understanding of the meaning of that moment, because we will hear it
within a similar musical context.
You both compose primarily on the piano. How does the way in which you
conceptualize music on the piano relate to how you approach your other
Kastning: Yes, I
nearly always use either an acoustic piano or a MIDI keyboard when
composing, though occasionally Iíll sketch out compositions directly
onto manuscript paper. Other than for some piano sonatas and a few other
works involving piano, however, the music I compose using piano isnít
ďpianoĒ music. I use the piano primarily as a tool for writing, not for
The harmonic field of the piano keyboard is dramatically different than
that of the guitar fingerboard, which causes me to see the fingerboard
very differently, and to utilize many chord voicings that arenít the
usual guitar-type voicings, but are instead coming from this different
place of pianistic harmonic concepts, which is, of course, also the
origin of many orchestral harmonic structures.
The exception is when composing solo works for either the 30-string or
36-string, which I do using those instruments. The 36-string, in
particular, is a rather symphonic instrument to begin with, so composing
music with a wide orchestral scope on it is not a problem. In fact, in
many ways the 30-string is akin to a chamber orchestra, and the
36-string a full symphony orchestra. Iím also designing some new
instruments that approach more of a Mahlerian scale of orchestral grasp.
Wingfield: Much the
same is true for me. I tend to use the piano more often than the guitar
when finding and exploring new harmonic territory. There is something
about the sound of the piano that I find inspiring, and being able to
sustain notes over the full register of the piano also allows me to hear
things in a much bigger, more orchestral perspective. That said, I also
compose using a computer by playing in lines on keyboard or guitar, or
writing them in onscreen.
Also, when I compose on piano or a keyboard, if I am going to play a
part on the guitar, Iíll attempt to voice the chords as closely to the
piano voicings as possible, which will usually be different than
standard guitar chord voicings. And when that isnít physically possible,
Iíll employ electronics as a way of building up chords from single
notes. In fact, itís largely composing on piano that has caused me to
find ways of using electronics to extend the guitarís chordal
Patrck Eggle LA Plus with Roland GK-2 and Fishman TriplePlay hex
pickups, Sustainiac, and VMeter controller. Roland VG-88
V-Guitar system and Roland FC-300 MIDI Foot Controller. MacBook
Pro 2.7GHz/16GB SSD, running Apple MainStage 3. Typical
MainStage effects setups: Waves NLS, Waves API 550B, Sinevibes
Turbo, Lexicon PCM Reverb, Waves Neve V-EQ4, Logic Channel EQ,
Slate Digital VBC, MeldaProduction MFreqShifter, and Sinevibes
Circuit. For more information visitmarkwingfield.com
When designing new instruments or assembling new technologies, to what
extent are you attempting to realize sounds that you already hear in
your head, and to what extent are you hoping that the expanded
capabilities will provide inspiration to discover and explore new sounds
and musical possibilities that you hadnít imagined previously?
designing or inventing new acoustic guitar-family instruments, Iím
seeking vehicles to realize sounds and possibilities that I am hearing
internally or pieces Iíve already composed, that canít be realized using
my current instruments. Of course, once I have a new instrument and Iíve
begun learning how to play it, Iíll gradually discover things that could
not have been foreseen prior to actually working with that instrument,
and which always far exceed my original conceptions. At the same time, I
will also discover inherent limitations that I hadnít foreseen, and
sometimes those limitations may inspire the creation of another new
One example of this is that while working with the 30-string, I began
hearing something I call bitunal,
which is using two different tunings simultaneously. There is a similar
concept in 20th Century classical music called bitonality, where two key
signatures or harmonic centers are utilized simultaneously in a single
composition. With the 30-string, the 18-string Contraguitar side and the
12-string Alto guitar side were, of course, already in separate
tuningsóbut to access them simultaneously as one single tuningóas a
single instrumentówas a new discovery, and that concept of bitunalism
had an immediate and profound impact on my thinking, my harmonic
concepts, my compositional approach, and more.
Prior to the 30-string, my primary instruments were the 16- and
17-string Contraguitars, and I began to hear and conceptualize this new
bitunal approach not only as it applies to 18-string Contraguitar
combined with 12-string Alto guitar, but also to two 18-string
Contraguitars. I have many tunings that I use for Contraguitar, and the
idea of using two of them simultaneously was quite a satori for me. That
concept begat the 36-string Double Contraguitar, which is at present my
nearly always attempting to create sounds that I already hear in my
head, rather than trying to create new sounds that may inspire me to do
something in the future. Occasionally, Iíll accidentally hit upon an
unexpected sound that really inspires me as Iím searching for something
elseóbut I generally find it more fruitful to try and create new sounds
based on what I hear in my head, which really mean something to me.
Mark, some of the sounds you craft are reminiscent of existing
instruments such as flute, oboe, and trumpetóand your phrasing sometimes
also reflects those instruments more so than guitar. To what extent are
you deliberately attempting to emulate the sounds of other instruments,
if at all?
Wingfield: Itís not
that I want the guitar to sound like other real instruments. I want to
retain the essential guitar-ness of the sound, but I would love to be
able to bring in elements of the sounds of other instruments, such as
the hard brassiness of a sax, the mellow breathiness of a flugelhorn, or
the reediness of an oboe, and to change between them quickly and easily.
Iím already doing this to some extent, but I think technology will
eventually allow much deeper manipulation and shaping of the guitar
sound. The Roland VG System does restructure the sound in a deeper way
than conventional effects allow, but it is still primarily oriented
towards emulating different kinds of guitars.
Some software developers, however, are moving in interesting new
directions. Sinevibes makes some really interesting wave-shaping plugins
that have become a regular part of my setup, and I have a plugin from a
French manufacturer called IRCAM that allows me to reshape sound on a
deep level, separating it into noise and sinus components, and also
allowing formant and other manipulations.
I would like to see some plugins that emulate resonant instrument
bodies, such as woodwinds, brass, or strings. I can imagine, as just one
example, a guitar sound that retains many properties of the guitar, but
has the resonant body of a cello. I think this sort of thing may be just
around the corner and I would be interested in working with a plugin
company that wanted to explore this area.
As for non-guitar-like playing,
that largely comes from the fact that at one point I stopped listening
to guitar players and just listened to other instruments. It was
difficult to do, because there are so many guitarists whose playing I
love, but I found that listening to them filled my head with their
sounds and ideas, making it difficult for me to hear my own.
Instead, I spent a lot of time attempting to emulate the playing of
musicians such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Jan Garbarek. I was
struck by just how dramatically they could change the tone of the notes
they played, even within a single line. And I did the same with
vocalists, including Indian classical singers, and even drummers.
Through trying to emulate these other instruments I discovered a lot of
new things about tone, dynamics, phrasing, inflection, manipulating
pitch, and moving form one note to the nextóand eventually I began
hearing them coming through the guitar.
Do you listen to guitarists now?
Wingfield: I will
allow myself to briefly check out new guitar players if someone I know
tells me I need to hear them. And Iíll listen at length to players whose
approach is different enough from mine that I donít think Iíll be
influenced in an adverse wayóKevin and yourself being two good examples.
And Ralph Towner and Jimi Hendrix are examples of two that I never felt
the need to stop listening to because their approaches are far enough
from what I do that I wasnít worried about starting to play like them.
Kevin, are your custom instruments still ďguitars,Ē and to what extent
can standard guitar techniques be applied to playing them, as opposed to
developing entirely new techniques?
Kastning: I donít
think of them as guitars. For example, I think of the 36-string as a
Double Contraguitar [laughs].
There are a few standard guitar techniques that I am able to apply, but
each instrument demands the development of new techniques, which in some
cases lead to rethinking my approach to the instrument entirely. For
instance, the 36-string and 30-string are fitted with cello endpins so
that they may be played vertically in cello positionóand this has proven
so successful that the 16- and 17-string instruments are being modified
with cello pins, as well.
One benefit of this has been to overcome what I call ďthe tyranny of the
thumb.Ē I donít always keep my left thumb behind the neck when playing
the Contraguitars, because it isnít possible when you have a 3 5/8-inch
nut width. In fact, I often use my left thumb to play, as basically
another left-hand finger. Adopting the cello position also impacted my
vibrato so significantly that I had to completely abandon what I had
been doing and start fresh.
Similarly, Iíve had to expand my classical right-hand technique to span
both sets of strings on the 36-string and 30-string, so that I can play
them simultaneously. Again, thatís an example of the bitunal concept.
Iím also constantly finding fascinating new tapping and other two-handed
techniques when playing those instruments that wouldnít work when
playing instruments made of wood rather than carbon fiber.
Kevin, do your custom instruments have ďstandardĒ tunings?
Kastning: The right
neck of the 36-string always remains in octave tuning (B, E, A, D,
low to high, with the B below
bass register), but thatís the closest thing to a standard tuning. Iíve
devised numerous alternative tunings for the left neck of the 36-string,
and the other three Contraguitars. The Alto side of the 30-string and my
12-string Alto guitar are also both in different alto-register tunings.
Mark, how are your guitars tuned?
Wingfield: About six
years ago I attended a Q&A with Allan Holdsworth, and when asked what
advice he would give someone learning to play the guitar, he answered,
ďTune in all fourths.Ē Thatís something I had been thinking about doing
for years, so once I had an empty stretch in my touring and recording
schedule I tried it and within a day of retuning my brain was singing,
ďThank you, thank you, thank you!Ē I never looked back.
I needed to relearn all my chord shapes, and that took some timeóbut it
also gave me the opportunity to rethink my chord voicings, which was a
good thing. In terms of scales, I could see the entire neck as one big
homogeneous pattern instead of lots of different patterns that were just
sort of similar, which opened up many new possibilities.
When recording, I presume that Markís rig goes direct. How do you
capture the huge sonic range and complex characteristics of the acoustic
Kastning: Yes, Mark
goes direct. For In
Stories, he used two pairs of stereo inputs, one for a single VG-88
and the other for the laptop, which he used to process the VG-88.
The 36-string and 30-string both have dual sound holes, so by nature
they are true stereo instruments. The goal is to capture that stereo
image, and when you listen to the recordings you can hear the sound
moving naturally between the left and right channels. They have custom
K&K Sound pickup systems built in, which can handle the extreme
registers of those instruments beautifully. The K&Ks are combined with
two stereo pairs of microphones, so Iím utilizing six tracks of the mix.
For the top stereo pair of microphones I use Shure SM81 small-diaphragm
condensers, which were not my first choice, but which sounded much
better than the other mics I tried in that spot, including Microtech
Gefell M295s, AKG C 451 Bs, vintage AKG C 460 Bs, and Shure KSM141s. On
the bottom I use a pair of Shure KSM32s. The area below the bridge of
the 36-string and 30-string instruments generates a surprising amount of
energy and volume, and, again, I tried quite a few other mics before I
settled on the KSM32s.
I use a stereo pair of Gefell M295s on the C1 and C2 Contraguitars, and
a pair of Shure KSM141s on the classical.
All the microphones go into a Millennia Media HV-3D, 8-channel
microphone preamp, which is in turn routed directly into my Tascam
X-48MKII digital recorder.
Kevin, whatís that great reverb sound on your recordings?
Kastning: Thatís a
Bricasti Design M7, V2, modified by Bricastiís Brian Zolner with some
different caps that he thinks sound better than the production ones. It
isnít a reverb effectóit is reverb.
Wingfield is always trying to trade me out of it, but heíd have better
luck trying to trade me out of my lungs [laughs].
Is there a ďspiritualĒ dimension to your music in terms of process
in terms of the process. I can only attempt to tell you how this works
for me, but it goes back to what I previously stated about the process
of real-time composing and providing the composition with what it needs
when itís required. The music comes from somewhere else, and to my way
of thinking, itís a spiritual realm and process. The listener must
determine if there is a spiritual dimension in the result.
Wingfield: I would
say that there is definitely a spiritual dimension, but I should define
what the word ďspiritualĒ means to me, as it obviously means very
different things to different people. For example, many people associate
the word with various aspects of religious belief, but I donít have any
sort of belief in a god or the supernatural.
For me, the word spiritual refers to things in life that have a deep
meaning and which connect to something beyond the ďselfĒ as it is
ordinarily understood. It also refers to transcendent emotional and
mental states, and to a connection and deeper communication between
people that we do not have another word for. Music can be the source of
all of these things.
The experiences people can have while making or listening to music can
be deeply profound and affecting or very subtle. They can traverse the
entire gamut of human emotions, and also encompass imaginary realms
unknown elsewhere. To me, these experiences are every bit as real and
powerful as anything in the material world. In other words, the best
experiences I get from playing and listening to music are synonymous
with the word spiritual.
Describe what is occurring inside yourself both emotionally and
intellectually when you are improvising, especially when things are
improvising, Iím as focused as I can possibly be on what is happening
around me musically. I donít know that I would categorize much or any of
it as intellectual, at least not in the moment of creation. My
experience is more emotional, and spiritual, and in some cases even
There are rare instances when recording or performing wherein, with my
eyes closed, I can see a score. Itís as if the improvisation manifests
itself instantly into an actual visual score that is unfolding in
real-time as it is being performed. When that happens, I just follow the
score, like sight-reading.
At other times, I visualize shapes and colors that I canít see or access
other than when improvising, and that kind of strong and unique visual
imagery has a direct and visceral impact on the music. Iím not
consciously attempting to conjure any of these visual elements, nor do I
have any control over them. They simply exist on their own and manifest
themselves as they will, and they are always based on and related to the
Wingfield: Itís as
if Iím not really there, only the music is there. When I come back and
am conscious of being in the room, it means Iíve lost focus. I sometimes
see scenes in my mind while improvising, but essentially Iím
experiencing the emotions and moods in the music and hearing what should
be played to express them. Iím certainly not thinking about things.
In situations where Iím improvising over chord changes, I will need to
look at the next chord and be conscious of which scales will fit with
thatóbut that takes a fraction of a second and doesnít need to interrupt
the flow or require any real thinking. I guess you could say Iím
experiencing a state of flow and of openness.
What is the source of music, particularly improvised music?
Kastning: The source
of improvised music varies with each improvising musician. Of course
there is a lifetime of learning your instrument, technique, artistic
rules and concepts, etc., which all must be in place before you can
improvise a single note. But, once those things are in place, what comes
from that is what is inside you. And, for me, the source is spiritual.
The music I create comes from someplace else, and, in fact, ďIímĒ not
creating it. Iím providing an avenue for it to enter our plane of
existence, but I am not creating it.
Wingfield: I donít
know the ultimate source. You spend years training your fingers and mind
so that you can respond to the music, and then you forget all of that,
let yourself become part of the music, and hope that your fingers can
translate what you are experiencing in the moment. How that happens is a
mystery to me.
At the same time, I think itís true to say that almost anything anyone
plays is based to one degree or another on things theyíve heard
beforeóinfluences from other musicians, composers, and different types
of music. It is the mysterious ďscramblingĒ of those influences, as
Wayne Shorter puts it, and how they recombine into new ideas.
Have you found that any specific approaches to lifestyle tend to enhance
your connection with The Muse?
Kastning: For me the
connection is always there. I just have to be still and let it come
throughóand it always does.
That said, there are various things I do to nurture it. Listening to
lots and lots of music, for one. I also spend time outdoorsóhiking,
taking long walks on forest trails, and observing wildlife and elements
of nature. That feeds me and causes growth as a person, a spiritual
being, and palpably as an artist. And Iíve found visualization to be
very helpful. For example, when away from my instruments Iíll often
mentally focus on and envision things that I have been practicing, or
something new Iím trying to learn.
Diet and exercise also have a very direct impact on my artistic
concepts, precepts, sensing, and interpretation.
Kevin, I find that spending time in nature has a big effect on me as a
musician and composer, as does walking in the city, though in a
completely different way. I also like to sit in cafes in the city and
compose on my laptop, as I find being surrounded by people, and trying
to imagine what is going on in their lives, inspires new music. I lived
in London for a long time, but five years ago I moved to the countryside
and now live on a river overlooking a nature reserve. I tend to explore
and develop new musical ideas at home, but I still often find myself
going to a city to compose actual pieces.
I also try to open up creative connections between the conscious and
unconscious mind. For example, Iíll try to play while falling asleep, as
exploring that mental state where you are on the edge of sleep can
generate some really interesting ideas. Iíll also do something you might
call ďhalf playing,Ē where I let the part of my brain that controls my
fingers go as far as it wants without the restriction of making actual
sounds. Iíll do this on whatever is at hand, such as the arm of a chair,
not just moving my fingers, but exploring improvisations that are sort
of half-heard in my mind. I find that this gives me access to areas
within my mind that otherwise remain inaccessible, allowing new rhythmic
structures and melodic sequences to emerge.
Your music is very visual. Are there any filmmakers or painters that you
feel a particular resonance with either in terms of process or results?
Wingfield: I would
agree that my music is often visual, at least for me. I frequently
imagine scenes or places when Iím composing and sometimes when
improvising, and Iíll try to describe the feelings those places give me
using musical notes and sound. Sometimes the image is clear like a
photograph or a film, and sometimes itís abstract, more like a painting
or a collage of overlaid images.
I love numerous painters and my music is influenced by all of themóbut
no more than it is by other areas of life and by my imagination. As for
filmmakers, Stephen Poliakoffís films resonate with me. They often deal
with places and atmospheres and the people whose lives are linked with
them. I also like a film by Louis Malle called Ascenseur
pour líťchafaud that
Miles Davis created music for. Miles and the other musicians improvised
the music while watching the film, and it is a wonderful example of how
music can express the feelings behind the images of lives, times, and
Kastning: There are
a few filmmakers. Ingmar Bergmanís work often causes me to reassess some
elements that seem so basic that I might not be able to verbalize them,
such as how a particular shot is framed. This might translate into how I
view a scene in nature, which might further translate into how I want to
frame or harmonize a note in a line. I also have a real affinity for the
work of Werner Herzog.
As for painters I resonate with, there are many, ranging from the French
post-impressionists up to American and German abstract
expressionistsóand the work of some artists can cause me to physically
hear music when I view it. In fact, the music on the next album that
Mark and I plan to release was directly influenced by the work of
17th-century Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer. We actually had photos of
the painting on which each piece was based up in front of us when
playing, so we could keep an eye on them, much like following a score.
And, of course, Mark and I both feel a strong affinity for the work of
the Irish painter Ken Browne and the English photographer Chris Friel,
whose work has graced our album covers.
And it is the same for some modern and contemporary architecture. It is
all emotion, expression, communication, and creation, and each branch
and genre of art has its own connecting threads. I want to keep all the
doors and windows open to allow everythingto