Unique Transatlantic Sound
By Nathan Lamb
"Music is a... fundamental passion for Kevin Kastning.
Broadly speaking, Kastning's genre is modern acoustic guitar composition, a pursuit he's translated into roughly a dozen studio albums and a recording contract. However, he cautioned that his art includes tuning guitar-family instruments to his own unique keys, along with some instruments he invented to help fulfill his compositions. In short, he said it's a unique type of music, which makes it hard to categorize.
"In my mind, it could be called contemporary classical chamber music, but I've been told that the Canadian Broadcast Company has been playing it on their jazz and new-age programs," he said. "It seems like everyone I talk to has a different take on what it is."
Whatever it is, Kastning said the music -- which is alternatively described as "pensive" and "hypnotic" on its Amazon.com review -- has picked up a "pretty good" following in Europe, including a Hungarian fan named Sandor Szabo who since has become his favorite recording partner.
It began over the Internet, when Szabo contacted Kastning to talk music. Soon they were sharing work back and forth, and Kastning said the styles were such a good fit that they met to record an album, which was released in 2007.
The duo's third disk, Parabola, was released earlier this year, and Kastning said they recorded another album while touring Hungary in September.
Explaining how it's possible to thrive with an overseas recording partner that he sees maybe three weeks out of the year, Kastning said the chemistry is such that they usually record a disk in one day. He added that's not a gimmick, but instead a mark of how well their styles mesh.
"We don't set out and say we're going to record an album in a day, but at the end we've got eight or 10 new compositions and they're done," he said.
Kastning also described the latest recording session as memorable, if short. He said the tracks were laid at an old church with great acoustics in a tiny Hungarian village named Nograd. It had maybe a dozen homes and was overlooked by picturesque castle from the 9th century, which was also a good spot for a lunch break, he said.
When not recording, Kastning said they toured much of Hungary with longtime Sting guitarist Dominic Miller, adding they met some very dedicated fans, like one Hungarian who drove 250 kilometers to see them in person.
In the big picture, they have a recording contract through a small Boston-based label known as Greydisc Records, and while they have yet to cut a gold album (500,000 record sales), Kastning said he's always surprised at how well they do.
As the son of musician, Kastning said he quickly developed a strong interest in music, picking up his first guitar at age 11. Having been weaned on jazz and classical, Kastning said compositions would often spring fully formed into his head, though he quickly figured out they were outside the norms of those genres. Even so, he continued to develop them.
That process of bringing compositions to life has been very rewarding, explained Kastning, who said he knows firsthand that music can change people's lives -- and that he's honored that some people have said the same about his work.
"I don't think success is measured by how much money you make," he said.
"I get e-mails from around the world from people who like my music, and I'm very thankful for that," he added at another point.
Information about Kastning is available at www.kevinkastning.com."
Vermont Public Radio
WRUV-FM on-air interview: August 25, 2009. Click to listen.
OnClassical, July 2009 (Italy)
Kevin Kastning: A New Classical Language
"Kevin Kastning is the new artist at onclassical.com:
guitarist, composer and instruments inventor, he is obtaining
large consensus in America for his innovative music and
recordings. His four last publications (2006-2009) have been recently included
in our catalog: these albums are artistically relevant, curious, and impeccable
at a sound level. The art of Kevin Kastning and of musicians Szabó and
Siegfried, who flanked him, is innovative, courageous, hypnotic. We directly
speak with the artist in a long interview that Alessandro Simonetto, founder of
OnClassical, prepared for the OC blog."
A.S. Your music is a sort of improvisation that becomes composition in the act of performing it. We know this is a very original style of composition and performance at the same time. What are the influences of your artistic language? How do your thoughts and your own musical artistic processes impact these compositions?
K.K. Wow, that is a good question. I don’t know if I could list all my artistic influences, as I am sure there are some which are there, but unconscious and unknown to me. A few composers that come to mind are Bartok, Elliott Carter, Gesualdo, Tallis, Beethoven’s middle and late period string quartets, Ockeghem, the second Viennese school, Schnittke, Shostakovich, Bach, Byrd, Josquin, Praetorius, and even going back as far as Machaut. Bartok’s string quartets had a deep and tremendously profound impact on me; both artistically and even spiritually. I also suspect that I have been impacted by artists from the French post-impressionist and the abstract expressionist periods; as well as authors such as Joyce, Proust, and Eliot. Sometimes I think I have a tendency to translate the visual into the audible.
OnClassical featured Artist: Kevin Kastning.
K.K. I find that when I’m involved in observing and really taking in a painting, that I will start to hear things; I look at a Jackson Pollock work and I can hear a lot of sound in that. Architecture can be an influence as well; I am a fan of Frank Gehry, and can hear sound when I look at some of his designs. I have thought of how the architectural concept behind flying buttresses of the Gothic period can translate into compositional form, or become a structural element of a piece. I also find that I am pretty heavily influenced by nature: landscapes; the seeming randomness of things like leaf veining and bird song and avian sounds. Lately I see things like cloud formations, forest growth patterns, river meanders, and certainly snow and snow patterns and wonder how I could translate that directly to score paper. I think that an artist’s varied influences and impacting exposures become internally aggregated and sort of transmogrify into a new and unique amalgam; this becomes that artist’s voice.
A.S. The collaboration with other musicians such as Siegfried and Sandór Szabó: how do you discover to have the same "frequencies" / feeling for working at the same project?
K.K. As for the works with Siegfried, he and I began working together in the early 1990s; our album “Binary Forms” was recorded in 1992. In this case, Siegfried knew we were operating on the same artistic frequency. I didn’t; he brought it to my attention and asked if we could record together. At first I said no, but I’m glad he pressed me to do it, otherwise it never would have happened. He was right, by the way.
Kevin Kastning and Sandór Szabó at the Traumwald Studio.
I’ll use Sandór as a more detailed example; I hope he won’t mind! I met him a few years ago; before we met, I knew who he was, and he had found my music and researched it a bit prior to initially contacting me. We conversed quite a lot and listened to each other’s music. I had a strong sense, both conscious and subconscious, that he and I would artistically fit together like two puzzle pieces. And we did, in fact, on not only an artistic level, but also on a spiritual and deeply inner level, which of course translated to and became evident in the works we jointly create. We just knew that we were operating on, to use your rather accurate term, the same frequency. Sandór stated the same thing to me, but an interesting difference is that he knew it long before I did! It’s tough to verbalize or explain; it is as if we’d known each other artistically long before we actually met. In fact, I’ve never met anyone with whom I have so much in common artistically. The work he and I do together is the most natural process in which I’ve ever been involved. I know he and I will be working together for a very long time.
I’ve been asked by other artists to collaborate or record with them, but it’s really rare that I feel an artistic connection or affinity. There are a couple of other artists with whom I’m either working or with whom I’m going to be recording, though.
A.S. The guitars you, Kevin and the other musicians, play: how do you choose them? Do you personally build them? How and why?
K.K. As for the instruments I play, I initially select them based on their voice and tonal response. I will select a specific instrument for a certain composition or recording based on the requirements of that composition. For several years, I have been internally hearing (and still do) compositions which involved ranges and registers of instruments, specifically of the guitar family, which were not extant. I’m fortunate to be an artist endorser for Santa Cruz Guitars; we have a wonderful working relationship. After we’d established that relationship, I approached them with some instrument design ideas I had which extended the range of the guitar, and asked if they were interested in building them for me. To my surprise, they were not only agreeable, but very excited to do this. The first instrument I designed, and by designed I mean the register and range and tunings, was the DKK, which is an extended baritone guitar; it is tuned to F#, which is one whole step above a bass, and a seventh lower than guitar. For this extended range to be possible, a much longer scale length is required; this in turn requires a very different playing technique. I used the DKK in the studio on an upcoming album with Sandor wherein I had it in bass (E) tuning, and it sounded amazing; just really full and rich. With a lower-pitched instrument, far more string harmonics are available. When using the extended baritones, many of my chord voicings and harmonic structures involve artificial string harmonics; this just is not possible on a standard concert-pitch guitar. From the DKK came the DKK-12, which is a 12-string version of it, also in F# tuning.
The DKK-12 extended baritone Guitar.
I have devised many of my own intervallic tunings for the DKK-12, and I first used these on the album Parallel Crossings. On that album, for some pieces I used concert F# tuning and on others I used my intervallic tunings. To briefly explain: in F# concert tuning on the DKK-12, the string pairs are all in octaves; for example, the first course is F# / f#. In intervallic tunings, the first course might be F# / A. In other words, each course is tuned to a different non-octavic interval. In fact, all my work on Parabola was recorded using entirely my own intervallic tunings; I didn’t use any concert tunings whatsoever on the entire record. The intervallic tunings also provide entirely other sets of artificial harmonics; as well as the possibility of 12-note chord voicings.
The KK-Alto guitar in progress.
The newest KK / Santa Cruz instrument is the Alto Guitar. This is a small-bodied, short-scale length 12-string which is pitched a P4 (perfect fourth) above standard guitar concert tuning; concert tuning is E; the alto is in A. It’s a very unusual guitar voice; it sounds like an amalgam of harpsichord and mandolin. I will touring Europe with Sandor this year, and will be taking the alto on the tour with me. So to answer your question: I don’t build them, but I did design them.
A.S. Yes, that was my intention...
K.K. And they were built to fill an artistic need: that need being the compositions for instruments which didn’t exist. Now they do exist. Interestingly enough, Sandor has a 12-string baritone which was built using the DKK-12 specifications; once he heard mine, he had to have one! He uses this instrument rather virtuosically on Resonance and Parallel Crossings. We have an album in the can which will be released in 2010 wherein we are both using different intervallic tunings on 12-string baritones. The harmonic densities and soundscapes are just huge! There is another new instrument on which I’m working with a wonderful and gifted luthier here in the US named Dan Roberts; it will have a wider range even than the DKK-12. Again, this instrument is conceived out of a need for an even wider ranging instrument for new compositions and their required tunings on which I’m working. The intervallic tunings are born out of a similar process: I have these pieces, or I’m hearing compositions involving harmonic structures that I can’t achieve. Unless I re-invent something; first the instrument, and then that instrument’s tuning scenarios.
A.S. When I was teen I improvised at the piano with closed eyes, looking for the best sound for my invention: I defined the music that came out: blind music. Do you think we could define your own language in the same way?
K.K. Hmmm… I don’t know, but that’s another good question. I come from a discipline of composing; I’ve composed over 200 pieces; various string quartets, piano sonatas, trios; mostly chamber works. So even though I’m improvising with Sandor, for example, those improvisations are coming from a place of formal composition. Form is always a consideration, even where there is what might be perceived as a lack of form. I did an album in 2004 with Siegfried entitled Bichromial, and on that album, we focused on a concept I defined as open form compositions: these were improvised pieces with no repeating sections or motifs. The form was not cyclic in any way, but purely linear. So even in the absence of form, there is form. At least in my mind.
A.S. What are the technical equipment used to record (I mean microphones, preamps, and more ...). What is your attitude/mood before and during the recording session?
K.K. I am very, very finicky about, and demanding of, recording equipment. The albums have been recorded using microphones by the German companies Gefell and Neumann into Millennia preamps. The Millennias are the cleanest and purest preamps I’ve ever used. The Gefell mics are so incredibly detailed that I think they can almost hear your thoughts! Lately I’ve been using some microphones from Peluso; I really like those very much and am excited about them. I have them in the studio, and am already at work on the next couple of albums, and the Peluso mics are being used on those, as well as the Gefells. The Peluso mics are really wonderful. They render the image in such a manner that they provide a wider soundscape, which is difficult to do and something for which I’ve been searching. My recording chain is very pure and direct: microphone to preamp to recorder. In both the recording and the mixing process, no EQ, compression, or limiting is ever used. The only outboard gear used in the mixing and mastering process other than the mixing desk and mastering recorder is the Bricasti M7 reverb unit. This is like having Boston Symphony Hall right in the studio; it’s inexplicably beautiful and pure. Every album from Resonance on has been mixed with the M7; in fact, Resonance was the first album ever mixed with the M7. I’ve been really fortunate to work with companies like Bricasti and Peluso, too. For the past year or so, I've been using the Enhanced Audio M600 microphone mounting system. It really adds a measure of clarity, depth, and detail. In fact, Parabola was recorded using the M600 on the mics.
Kevin Kastning during a recording session.
As for the mood before and during the recording sessions, I suppose I would say it’s relaxed and natural. Sandor and I have recorded four complete albums together, and parts of two more. The feeling in the studio is highly energized; yet very placid and calm. I think he and I both have about the exact same artistic temperament and approach; no stress, no nervousness; we just allow the music to speak through us. I know that may sound a little odd, but I don’t how to explain it other than that. For me, the recording process is very natural. It’s a part of the creative process which tends to be more concrete than others. Strangely enough, as much as I find this process to be a natural one, after a day in the recording studio, I am just so wiped out that I can barely speak. The albums I’ve done with Sandor were each recorded in just one day; while that’s a pretty fast recording pace, it can leave you rather drained at the end of that long day!
A.S. The musical language from Scalar Fields to the new album, Parabola, through (via) Resonance and Parallel Crossings, is constantly evolving. Do you think to bring this moving language versus forms of electronic or maybe microtonal music, for example, using the computer to modulate the sounds during the performance or tuning the guitars with strange temperaments?
K.K. I’ve never been very interested in electronic music, though I have listened to it; I find much of John Cage’s work interesting. Real acoustic instruments speak to me very directly and entirely spiritually; I think we will never fully explore their capabilities. Microtonal music I do find interesting; for example, Ezra Sims and the quarter-tone work of Charles Ives especially. The various tunings I’ve created are like extra paint colors on an artist’s palette; they’re not a an end unto themselves, but a means to an end. I think my (for lack of a better term) research into scordatura has been one catalyst for growth and forward momentum, though not the only one. Since you mentioned the three released albums I’ve done with Sandor, I’ll answer based on those. I’m not interested in repeating something I’ve already done; each new composition or new album will always be different from what preceded it. Not as a prerequisite exactly, but as far as I can tell, this is just part of my artistic process. At any given moment, I’m working on two or three new albums in the studio, and usually around 10 or so new non-guitar compositions; pieces for string quartet, for example. There is a new album with Siegfried which is complete; it will be released later this year or early next year. It’s very different than anything we’ve done; yet it’s still us, and in my opinion, it’s the finest and most evolved work he and I have done together. And I’m working on a solo album using my various guitar voices; specifically the DKK-12 and the alto together, and also an album of medieval works. With so many new pieces to complete, and so many new ones beginning all the time as others finish, there’s just no time to repeat something I’ve already done. So I think that what you’re describing as hearing the music constantly evolving is maybe just a part of this forward-moving process or momentum. I know Sandor feels the same. I think this is not something unique to he and I; I suspect this is a normal developmental element of a healthy artistic trajectory.
Van Gogh once said something to the effect that “a true artist is one who is always seeking, but never finding.” I think the evolvement you’re hearing in my music is just part of an organic process. And by the way, thank you for saying so.
A.S. To be part of our artists (and albums) at OnClassical is not very easy. We received each month tens of musicians that send their material to our office but very few products have been considered good for our purpose. Your albums are instead a summary of innovative music and well-captured sound. Why did you choose OnClassical? What do you think about the project we are working on?
K.K. OnClassical came along at a time wherein I was thinking about what they were doing, before I even heard of them. I wondered why recording technology was moving forward, but content delivery was moving backward vis a vis the low-res mp3 download trends. It would be like having a high-definition DVD player, and connecting it to a 1950s black-and-white TV. It didn’t make sense to me. I wondered why no one was offering high-resolution downloads; with the advent of broadband connections, the low-res and terribly compressed mp3 format was no longer valid. I had thought of posting high-res versions of the albums and making them available for download, but before I could implement it, and I doubt that I could have done this very effectively, as it’s not an insignificant move, I was contacted by OnClassical, and was invited to sign with them. At first I wasn’t interested in signing with more download sites, but when I saw what they were doing, I was pretty excited about it. Finally someone was making it possible to download high-res files, and a classical online label at that. The genre which could benefit most from high-res recordings more so than any other genre; it was finally happening. I hope to provide OnClassical with the 24-bit masters of some upcoming releases, too. I think it’s a great concept, and I like how OnClassical is executing it, otherwise I would never have signed with them. I’m really proud to be a part of OnClassical.
Unfretted, July 2008
Kevin Kastning: 10 Questions
1. Where were you born, where did you grow up, and what were your first musical influences?
I was born in Wichita, Kansas, which is right in the middle of the US. I also grew up there, but moved to Boston when I was 23. My first musical influences were in the form of listening to records before I could even walk. My father was a bassist, and had a huge record collection of several genres: big band jazz, classical, country and western, bluegrass, a few pop records. There was always music playing. From there, I don't know which genres would have influenced me early on, but I'm sure that having all that music around all the time made an impact. The ones I really remember were a live Cannonball Adderly record, and some Mozart: some of the later symphonies and a recording of Andre Previn playing the 11th and 12th Mozart Piano Sonatas.
2. What instruments have you learned, and how did you come to playing the fretless guitar?
Starting at age 7, I played various wind instruments, such as trumpet, french horn, and baritone horn in the school orchestras, and just loved that. Around age 11 or 12, I started playing guitar and piano. Current instruments are all the various guitars (6- & 12-string), alto guitar, the KK series of Santa Cruz extended baritones; both in 6- and 12-string, fretless guitar, mandolin, bass, and piano.
I began playing fretless guitar back around 1983 or '84. During this time, I was composing my first string quartet, and I had borrowed a cello for a while to try to work out some of the cello parts. I wasn't playing arco, but all pizzicato. I really became fascinated by the cello's pizzicato sounds, the almost vocal quality. I wanted to extract that sound, texture, and vocal element from a guitar. Although I had never heard of a fretless guitar, it occurred to me to have a guitar converted into fretless; I thought this would be just for experimental purposes, but within a few months I was performing with it. I took my Ibanez D-type acoustic to the luthier that did all my guitar work, told him what I wanted, and he basically threw me out of his shop! I persisted, and eventually he did the conversion for me; in fact he ended up liking it. He is an incredibly talented luthier, and still does some work for me; his name is John Barger in Salmon, Idaho.
That Ibanez is still the fretless guitar I use. I had it set up with nickel-wound light-gauge strings (.010, .013, .017p, .026, .036, .046) for years, but now use nylon strings, as they just speak better on this instrument. I also feel that the articulation is improved with nylon strings.
3. Do you play also electric fretless guitar or only acoustic?
I don't play any electric instruments at all; either fretted or unfretted.
4. What are your main musical influences right now?
The past several years, I've been listening to a tremendous amount of early music; this is music which was composed between 1400 and 1650 or thereabouts. In addition to that, it's my usual diet of 20th-century composers: Bartok, Schoenberg, Webern, Henry Cowell, Elliott Carter, Shostakovich, and many others.
5. Are there any other instruments you would like to learn to play?
Right now, the various guitar family instruments are keeping me plenty busy! I wouldn't mind getting a cello, though.
6. What do you feel in the main difference between the electric and the acoustic fretless guitar?
I don't play electric fretless, but from recordings I've heard from those who do, the sustain issue is certainly improved on electic. Playing fretless acoustic, the sustain is all but gone in the upper registers, so I've had to re-learn parts of my technique to either compensate for that, or to enhance and extract what little sustain there is in those registers.
7. What do you feel is the future for the acoustic fretless guitar?
Excellent question! I wish I had an equally good answer. In the future, I do hope to see more of us adventurous souls allowing it to lead us down previously unexplored paths.
8. Did you choose to play the acoustic fretless guitar, or did it choose you?
I'm not sure. Maybe I chose it, based on the cello experience I mentioned, or maybe that was how it found me, through the cello. At the time, I had never heard of a fretless guitar; I just knew I wanted a guitar with no frets to see where that might lead me.
9. What is your philosophy of music... what is the purpose behind why you play music... what is the reason (if any)?
I doubt that this interview is long enough to really explore that question. However, a couple of inceptive thoughts would be that I think music is the highest form of non-verbal communication. It comes from and reaches into places which words can't. For me, music is like breathing; it has always been there, and I don't know how I'd exist without it.
10. Who are your 5 favourite musicians of all time?
Wow, tough question. I suppose I tend to listen to, learn from, and experience growth and expansion from a broad range of composers rather than musicians, if we're defining musicians to be instrumental performers and/or players who either do not or are not known for their composing. I doubt that I could narrow it to five, but certainly Bela Bartok and Carlo Gesualdo would be on that list.
From the Middlesex Beat magazine; December 2004
“KEVIN KASTNING: AN ARTIST AT PEACE”
by Maureen King
Kevin Kastning is a soft-spoken artist completely at ease with his craft. Not so comfortable, the composer reveals, is being put into a box labeled “modern classical.” With the release of his third CD, Bichromial, the imaginative writer/composer has again stepped way outside those suggested boundaries. Admitting his compositions for guitar have a strong modern classical influence, both Kastning and his audience know there’s a lot more to it.
For Bichromial, Kastning has again partnered with Portland, Maine classical guitarist Siegfried. The composer and guitarist also collaborated on two earlier CDs, Binary Forms and Book of Days. With Bichromial, the two have produced a very different sound from their previous work. Varied instrumentation has given way to baritone and steel-string classical guitar. Eighteen open form improvisational studies composed by Kastning and Siegfried are meant to form a cohesive and singular whole. The creator compares the series of moody interplays to T. S. Eliot’s collection, The Waste Land, where individual poems stand on their own, yet contain a similar thread of tonality. Purposely omitting liner notes, Kastning and Siegfried have let it up to the listener to form their own images and meanings in the ethereal compositions. “Open Form No. 8” was just picked up by Chicago’s classical radio station WDBX for their “experimental music” broadcasts.
A rich interweaving of unhurried improvisational duets, the flavor is hauntingly atmospheric. The textured interplay between Kastning’s baritone and Siegfried‘s concert pitch steel string delivers the listener to a soothing, meditative solace. The autumnal texture of the disc makes it the perfect complement to a coastal art gallery opening on a gray, misty evening, a moaning foghorn in the distance. “The most introspective music I’ve ever heard,” revealed one fan to the composer.
On a recent cool November afternoon, the fair-skinned artist tucked himself into a cushy seat at the Concord Center Starbucks. Coffee in hand, Kastning spoke with a quiet confidence about his life’s work. In describing their latest release, the composer believes he and partner Siegfried have put forth strong music, yet more esoteric than mainstream listening material. “It’s so unusual I think everyone will have their own take on it. It’s like looking at an abstract painting, everybody takes away something different. I compose from what I hear internally, not with an audience in mind. Writing for an audience becomes marketing thing…a commodity. It has never appealed to me. Fortunately, people have liked it. But it’s like eye color; I have no control over it. It’s just a piece of me that I’m doing for me.”
Apparently somebody’s listening...and liking it. In 2001, Kastning was approached by Santa Cruz Guitars to be an artist endorser. Santa Cruz delivers a distinctive instrument, crafting their guitars from Honduran and Peruvian mahogany, among other imported tonewoods. Daniel Roberts of the prestigious California-based guitar company made a succinct appeal to the artist. “No one else is producing music like you, no one is doing it. It would mean a lot to us as a company to be associated with you,” stated Roberts. Buoyed by his belief that the Santa Cruz guitar is truly the “modern day Stradivarius”, the composer accepted. “It really meant a lot to me because I just love their instruments.”
In 2003 and 2004, The London Chamber Group performed two of Kastning’s pieces including “Arborescence,” a piece inspired by a hiking trip near the musician’s hometown of Groton. After rave reviews the group requested an additional Kastning composition for their 2005 season. Things began to roll for Kastning and Siegfried, who were then invited onto Greydisc Records. Being approached by the small Massachusetts label was an experience the shy musician admits to being, “satisfying…nice.” Two earlier CDs with partner Siegfried were receiving significant airplay on NPR, ABC Classical and Australian Public Radio. A second CD for Greydisc is in the works, with Kastning and Siegfried returning to a more varied instrumentation, featuring Kastning on fretless classical guitar, 12-string guitar, and mandolin. As yet untitled, this CD is due out in 2005.
As a child in Wichita, Kansas, Kastning received elementary school instruction in wind instruments and French and baritone horn. At the age of seven he took a homemade manuscript sketchbook along on one of his many hikes, a practice the artist still employs today. As a child would draw pictures, a seven-year old Kastning began to sketch little songs for piano. It remains the artist’s first recollection of original composition. Kastning would move on to guitar in seventh grade, continuing with trumpet, French horn and baritone horn through high school. The artist pursued further formal training at Wichita State University, and by graduation knew exactly what he wanted to do. Entering the Berklee School of Music in Boston, the burgeoning composer knew he would never return to the Midwest. He simply fell in love with New England.
While studying at Berklee, Kastning discovered enormous opportunity in getting to work with the right people at the right place. He was able to absorb invaluable instruction on the side from jazz great Pat Metheny during afternoon sessions at the musician’s house. Kastning recalls his mentor as being “brutal, but that was great.” Back at Berklee, unknowing professors were somewhat startled by Kastning’s talents musing, “Wow, you’re really improving.”
In the setting sun of a late fall afternoon, Kastning went on to compare the process of melding together the 18 series of Open Form studies on Bichromial to the Ravel string quartet playing overhead in Starbucks. The artist sat described a process of melding the individual pieces together like chapters from a book or movements from a symphony. “They were constructed to stand on their own, but they’re all part of that series. It’s like this Ravel,” the classical aficionado points out from the string quartet heard overhead. “Four instruments are playing something different but yet they come to a cohesive whole.”
Kastning explains the title for Bichromial is based in the definition of chromatic, a term indicating the progression of semitones. While searching his brain for a name for the new CD he began thinking about music as a “chromatic pallet” with a broad range of color and tonality. “I couldn’t find a word to describe that, so I made one up,” confesses the shy composer with a smile. “Bichromial” indicates a dual chromaticism.”
The warmth of the Kastning-Siegfried vignettes comes across in intricate fretwork. The haunting effect engulfs the listener in a mesmerizing ambience. You are formally invited to pour a warm mug of your favorite brew and curl up in front of a wood fire and drink in what the UK’s Music News is calling, “A fine record for the onset of winter - find some time and enjoy it.”
ARTIST OF THE MONTH FOR OCTOBER 2004: KEVIN KASTNING
At what age did you start playing?
Some horrible no-brand pseudo-dreadnaught with a bolted-on bridge and painful, finger-bleeding action. It put the "dread" in dreadnaught. Before I had it, I think it was used to extract war secrets from prisoners in World War II. One of the guys in my dad's band sold it to me. Of course, I loved it.
My father was my earliest musical influence; he was a bassist. My uncle was a very talented singer/songwriter with a few records under his own name, and some songwriting credits on some other performer's records. My father was the bassist in my uncle's band. Music was a constant. It was everywhere in our house; he had stacks and stacks of records. He exposed me to all genres of music: classical, big band, jazz, pop, country, bluegrass; if it was available on records, I heard it. Exposure to all these diverse styles at such an early age made a tremendous impact on me. Even as a small child, I was listening to music hours and hours per day. (I still do!) According to him, I learned to read from record labels before I'd ever started school.
I began playing recitals when I was 8 or 9, but my first real gig was when I was 14. I was doing gigs with my uncle's band (totally under-age), and I started doing studio gigs when I was 15.
Acoustic guitars you own:
Santa Cruz custom DC , Santa Cruz custom OMC, Martin HDC-28, Martin custom DC-12-28, and an experimental fretless nylon string. All my guitars, except the fretless, are cutaways. I recorded the new CD using all Santa Cruz guitars.
My Santa Cruz DC. Cocobolo rosewood back and sides, German spruce top, with a cutaway. A huge, massive tone; yet very well-balanced. I love it. Without question, my favorite guitar I've ever had.
Your style, and how you developed it:
I don't think I have a style as such, but my playing has been impacted by many diverse influences. Interestingly enough, probably none of the people I'd count as influences were guitarists. The vast majority were, and still are, composers. The rest were jazz pianists and horn players. I think too many guitarists only listen to guitarists. Only listening to and pursing the music of one instrument, no matter what that instrument might be, is truly limiting from a technical and artistic standpoint. As much as I love guitar, it's only one of the many instruments from which I can learn.
I begin and end the daily sessions with various scales and modal scales over a three-octave range, using a metronome. I do quite a bit of sight-reading exercises using non-guitar music. For example, I'm currently sight-reading my way through the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. Playing music on guitar which was not written for guitar will tend to force you out of patterns and habits. I also spend a lot of time adapting chordal and harmonic structures from things like string quartet scores to fit on guitar. This produces some unusual, interesting, very beautiful, and very non-guitar-like chord voicings.
Wow, that's tough. I have so many favorites! Mostly composers: Bartok, Elliott Carter, Beethoven; especially the late quartets, Gesualdo, Schoenberg, Shostakovich, Webern, Morton Feldman, Bach, and many others. Most of the composers to whom I listen are 20th century composers. I've gotten a lot from authors such as Joyce and Proust, and painters such as Pollock. I think all areas of the arts are connected; it's all about self-expression and communication; just in different mediums. For example, I've gotten ideas about composition and form by reading something like Joyce's "Ulysses." Or staring at a Pollock painting and thinking about how it would sound if it were translated into notes. I've also been influenced by pianist Bill Evans. I actually don't listen to that many guitarists, but a few I like are Ralph Towner, Goran Sollscher, and Paul Galbraith. Those guys just knock me out. They're stretching the boundaries of guitar.
Is there anything else you want people to know about you, your playing style or your views on today's music in general?
Nothing else about me or my playing or composing, but in my opinion, the possibilities of the guitar are endless. I would invite guitarists to broaden their horizons and expose themselves to non-guitar music. You'll hear things you'd never hear otherwise.
Wichita East High School Produces Many Notable
Published Apr 22, 2008
Maybe there’s something in the water fountains‚ or maybe it’s knowing you’re part of a proud tradition‚ but a number of East High Aces have gone on to fame and glory.
For example‚ there’s Jim Ryun‚ the first high school student to run the mile in under four minutes. He went to the Olympics in 1964 while still a student at East‚ and again in 1968 and 1972. Remembered as one of the world’s great runners‚ he also served in Congress from 1997 to 2007.
Robert Gates‚ class of 1961‚ also made his mark in Washington‚ as director of the CIA under former president George H.W. Bush and in December of 2006 was sworn in as U.S. Secretary of Defense.
Diane Bish learned to play the organ at East and is now an internationally known artist. Her TV show‚ “The Joy of Music‚” is seen and heard by more than 300 million people weekly.
Writer Teresa Riordan‚ class of 1978‚ wrote the “Patently Weird” column for The New York Times.
Gary M. Adamson‚ class of 1954‚ founded Air Midwest Airlines.
Michael McClure was one of the major Beat Generation poets.
Astronaut Charles (Chuck) Jones‚ class of 1970‚ was among those who perished on Sept. 11‚ 2001.
Alafair Burke has authored several crime novels and is a radio and TV commentator. She is the daughter of crime writer James Lee Burke and a radio and TV commentator.
Kevin Kastning‚ class of 1978‚ is an internationally recognized classical composer and recording artist.
- Images Magazine (Wichita, KS)
Interviews, page 1