An interview with Kevin Kastning and Carl Clements: Music Web Express 3000 Magazine; September 2014
KASTNING / CARL CLEMENTS
Truly an album of inspirational music making, Watercolor Sky is the 2014 collaboration recording by guitarist Kevin Kastning and horn / woodwinds player Carl Clements. The duoís 2013 CD Nowhere, Now Here was more dynamic than their first album, Dreaming As I Knew, and 2014's Watercolor Sky presents an even more in depth look into their mix of acoustic guitar and sax. Commenting on the duo's three albums together, Kastning explains, 'These three records are separate entities; not really connected; though each may build off the previous. Each record has its own direction and concept, and the only influence from our previous records is that we agree we don't want to repeat any previous concepts or directions. For example, we have our fourth record almost completely recorded, and it's a departure from Watercolor Sky. I think each record moves things forward in an expansive way', with Clements further adding, 'I do see the conceptions of each of our albums so far as being both progressive and distinct. Theyíre progressive in the sense that our rapport and reservoir of ideas continues to grow, and weíre constantly exploring new directions, concepts, and even instruments and instrumental combinations.' Calling Kastning just an acoustic guitarist would be a disservice. Scripting his albums like spatial instrumental soundtracks, Kastning appears more like the Rod Serling of the 36 string double contra guitar, directing his latest instrument which he debuts on this album. The music that Kastning and Clements create together on Watercolor Sky is beyond words, more like the soundtrack to an M.C. Escher painting. Intricate, prismatic are words you could use to describe Watercolor Sky. From the eerie cover art / Rorshach painting on the cover, to the rich sonic details and calculus of Kastningís piano like 36 string guitar and the wide range of Clementsí towery horns, Watercolor Sky is a total sonic trip well worth taking. Kevin Kastning / Carl Clements
mwe3.com presents an interview with
Kevin Kastning and Carl Clements
mwe3: The 2014 CD release of Watercolor Sky follows the earlier Kastning / Clements CD releases Dreaming As I Knew and Nowhere, Now Here. Is there a trilogy of ideas moving forward and culminating on your new album? You mentioned Nowhere, Now Here was much more dynamic than its predecessor so, in what ways does Watercolor Sky pick up the torch and move things forward sonically and compositionally so to speak?
Kevin Kastning: I wouldn't say a trilogy. These three records are separate entities; not really connected; though each may build off the previous. Each record has its own direction and concept, and the only influence from our previous records is that we agree we don't want to repeat any previous concepts or directions. For example, we have our fourth record almost completely recorded, and it's a departure fromWatercolor Sky. I think each record moves things forward in an expansive way; Watercolor Sky brings a kind of meditative element with it; almost an inward reflective or separate emotional state. Whereas Nowhere, Now Here was denser in texture than Dreaming As I Knew, Watercolor Sky is far more sparse and austere; more evocative.
Carl Clements: I wouldnít call it a trilogy, as itís an ongoing effort that will include more than three albums. But I do see the conceptions of each of our albums so far as being both progressive and distinct. Theyíre progressive in the sense that our rapport and reservoir of ideas continues to grow, and weíre constantly exploring new directions, concepts, and even instruments and instrumental combinations. Theyíre distinct in so far as we look back on our previous work and try to think of how we can build on it and explore some directions that we havenít previously delved into fully. For Watercolor Sky, we chose to feature tracks that explored a somewhat more meditative direction. We didnít really set out to do this at the start, but when it came down to deciding which of our recently recorded tracks to feature on the album, we realized that we had a strong selection of tracks that were very spacious and introspective. We thought it might be interesting to put them together on a single album to present this side of our playing. It was a bit of an experiment, but so far the response has been very positive. This is also the first album to feature Kevinís 36 string Double Contraguitar, so it is sonically distinct in that regard, as well.
mwe3: How does the addition of the 36 string Double Contraguitar on Watercolor Skyincrease the sonic spectrum so to speak and how does it change and/or enhance the sound in contrast to the 30 string Contraguitar? I also noticed in the Watercolor Sky liner notes, that you have listed which tracks feature the 30 string and which feature the 36 string. What should the listeners keep an ear out for to pick up on the sonic differences between the 30 and 36 string guitar sound?
Kevin Kastning: The addition of the 36 increases the sonic spectrum in a couple of ways. The most immediate being that it allows for two Contraguitar tunings on the same instrument. So one neck is in all octave tunings, and the other is in one of my intervallic tunings. It allows for new techniques and possibilities; one example is that I can simultaneously play a bass line on one side, while tapping upper-register chords or melodic lines on the other; almost in a Chapman stick approach. Or I can use my right hand to simultaneously play both sets of strings. Another sonic impact is that by having the octave tunings covered by one neck of the 36, it allows me to put the Contra side of the 30-string into yet another tuning. Ergo, I have three different Contraguitar tunings right there. This expands my harmonic palette in ways unimaginable just a few years ago.
One of the sonic differences between the two instruments is that the voicings are different on all three necks. Even though they are all 18-string double-course instruments, each really has its own voice; its own sonic fingerprint. I don't mean due to the three different tunings, though that is certainly three distinct and separate voices. I mean that were all three in the exact same tuning, you'd be able to discern three different voices, like three different instruments, as they were all voiced differently when they were designed and built. The Contraguitar on the 30-string is a bit more forward and brighter; whereas the overall voicing on the 36 is more balanced and has a bit more response in the bass and sub-bass registers.
One other key difference is that the 30-string is fretless in its upper registers. This allows for some unique and interesting fretless work, voices, effects, and possibilities. The 36 is not; both necks are double-octave 24-frets, so I have a more workable extreme upper register for chords and polyphony on the 36 than on the 30, which due to the fretless area is more monophonic and linear.
Carl Clements: Iím sure Kevin will have more to say about this than I will, but there are a number of aspects of the 36 string Double Contraguitar that stand out for me. One is the almost orchestral aspect of having so many strings immediately available, which allows for very rich textures. Another is the fact that the tuning on the two necks of the guitar are significantly different. As I understand it, one neck is tuned primarily in octave or unison pairs, and the other is tuned primarily in more dissonant pairs of 2nds and 9ths. While Kevin has used each of these tuning concepts in the past, the double-neck guitar allows him to have both tunings readily available during a single track. This certainly expands his palette.
Kevin Kastning: Orchestral is the right word for it!
mwe3: Last time, Carl mentioned Nowhere, Now Here was exciting in part because both of you were playing new instruments that you hadnít recorded with earlier. Was there that same level of excitement this time as well and can Carl specify or indicate any additions or changes to his equipment on the Watercolor Sky album?
Kevin Kastning: Yes, I think there was. There was the additional possibilities and horizons provided by the 36. When we were in the recording sessions for the album that would become Watercolor Sky, the 30-string was only a year old, so that was (and still is) a new instrument with new possibilities. Add to that the sheer vastness of the 36, and for me it was certainly exciting. Watercolor Sky is the first album, the recording debut, for the 36. In fact, for Watercolor Sky, I only played the 30 and 36 on the entire record. This was only the second album utilizing Carl's alto flute, so for me, that also still seemed like a new voice and an extension of our harmonic and melodic compositional landscapes. Bringing his alto flute together with the 30 and 36 created some new soundscapes for us.
Carl Clements: As mentioned in regard to your last question, Kevinís 36 string Double Contraguitar added a great deal to this album. For myself, I didnít add any new instruments this time. But there is a nice diversity of instrumentation, as I play alto flute, bansuri flute, tenor sax, and soprano sax. For some reason, more of the tracks are on alto flute than any other instrument. I suppose this is in part because this is my newest instrument, and it is a sound Iíve been wanting to explore for years. But I also think that for the more meditative concept on this album, we found that the deep resonant sound of the alto flute was conducive to evoking the kind of textures and timbres that fit well with the albumís concept. Nonetheless, Iím equally happy with the tracks that included bansuri flute (the opening track) and tenor and soprano saxes.
mwe3: Were there any different or unique musical influences or goals on Watercolor Sky, as far as the sounds you were trying to achieve in the studio this time around? The sound of Watercolor Sky is very dark in places but itís just as mesmerizing, if not more so, as your other CD releases. What inspired you musically, sonically and in other ways on the Watercolor Sky CD and what was your mindset like in the studio this time around?
Kevin Kastning: Regarding the goals, at the outset of a new album project, Carl and I spend significant time discussing the direction for the new record. Probably the best descriptive I can grasp for this record is "meditative." I think there is a real austerity and sparseness there, but not in a minimalist way at all. I suspect the darkness to which you refer may be the depth of the compositional aspects.
Regarding the influences, Carl and I both have some rather diverse and deep influences not always shared by the other. For example, Carl has been and continues to be deeply impacted by Indian classical music, though I can't claim it as an influence. One of my life-changing influences is early music, but I don't think that genre has impacted Carl. Whereas another major area of influence and direction for Carl is jazz, my main area of influence and impact is classical music. Probably 90% of what I listen to, study, practice, research, and pursue is classical music. One element that may have shaded my input on Watercolor Sky is the music of Korean gauageumist Byungki Hwang. His music is like an austere wintery landscape; emotional; sparse, but never minimalist. However, there are some commonalities and influences we both share; for example, the late-period Beethoven quartets or Jan Garbarek or the solo works of Keith Jarrett. We also share many nonmusical artistic influences in the fields of literature, painting, and nature. I think we've both been and continue to be heavily influenced by these areas.
Additionally, Carl and I have been playing together for over 29 years; our first concert together was in 1985. I think it's possible and even likely that spending that much time together in performances and recording studios is that each of us may have been, and probably continues to be, an influence, subliminal or otherwise, on the other. You can hear this in some passages on Watercolor Sky; while the album is entirely improvised, many sections do sound composed. I think that kind of compositional cohesion and structure partially results from having played together for so long.
Carl Clements: I donít think we specifically aimed to draw inspiration from any particular influences, but inevitably, a lifetime of influences manifests itself in one way or another. Since Iíve played Hindustani classical music on the bansuri flute for many years, I believe this is a constant inspiration for me, especially on more spacious and introspective tracks like the ones weíre featuring on Watercolor Sky. I also find some resonance in these tracks with Japanese gagaku music, though this is a very subjective observation that Kevin might not share. Interestingly, I played my first concert of traditional Japanese music not long after completing the recordings for Watercolor Sky, and this might have heightened my awareness of this aspect of our own music. As far as the studio mindset, I think one of the things we were aiming for this time around was a strong sense of space and balance. Of course we always have these ideas in mind, but this time I think it was more of a conscious framing for many of the tracks.
mwe3: Kevin mentioned last time about how evolutionary and revolutionary the 30 string guitar sound was and how challenging he felt it was to master and record with. So lo and behold, instead of reducing strings he went for another six strings on the 36 string guitar. So compared to the 30 string, what unique challenges does the 36 string guitar pose, both as a guitarist and as a composer? Also to combine his sound with the 36 string guitar, did Carl alter, amplify or diversify his sound?
Kevin Kastning: As a composer, it doesn't bring challenges; it eliminates them. The 30-string and the 36-string came into existence due to compositional requirements, limitations, and needs. They don't bring compositional challenges if challenges are defined as limitations; they bring compositional possibilities and solutions to compositional problems and limitations. As a guitarist, it's another story. Because these instruments have never existed, the required technique is up to me to discover, find, and learn. Obviously, there's no reference materials in existence for 30- and 36-string such as there are for 6-string classical guitar. I play them both in a cello posture; vertically instead of horizontally, and both instruments utilize cello end pins. When I was designing the 30-string, I didn't know that a cello posture would be the playing position, though I did suspect it. One technique I've developed is playing both necks simultaneously. This is an enormous challenge with which I'm still grappling and no doubt will be for quite some time. This is why I refer to the 36 as a "36-string" instrument and not a doubled "18-string" instrument: because I approach it and the 30 as a single entire instrument; I utilize the entire instrument at all times instead of merely focusing on one neck and then switching to the other.
Carl Clements: Iíll leave the first part of this question to Kevin. For my own part, I wouldnít say that I needed to change my approach in terms of amplification or diversification to blend with the 36 string Double Contraguitar. But as I discussed earlier, the increased sonic and harmonic possibilities of this guitar certainly helped pull me in new and interesting directions. As Kevinís palette expands, I find myself drawn into new sonic territory.
mwe3: In 2013, Kevin told mwe3.com that Nowhere, Now Here had more to do with 21st century classical chamber music than jazz or New Age music. After hearing Watercolor Sky I would say that comparison is even more accurate. This is truly genre-less music. Would Watercolor Sky be even more neoclassical in scope, compared to Nowhere, Now Here and what other musical influences came into play during the recording process? For instance, how do Carlís Hindustani classical and other sonic influences come into focus on Watercolor Sky?
Kevin Kastning: While I think our music has more to do with 21st-century classical music, I don't think I'd label it as 21st-century classical. The compositions are certainly longer and more extended on Watercolor Sky than our previous records, so that alone may seem to imply classical influence. Personally, I wouldn't label it as any genre; I think the influences and genres by which Carl and I have been impacted and from which we've learned and the forces by which we continue to be shaped are too diverse. That said, I've heard listeners label it with the element they hear and with which they identify, which is understandable. We get airplay on classical, jazz, and even new age radio; to wit:Watercolor Sky charted on the New Age charts. I suspect that music which is without genre may reactionarily get tossed into several genres; as each person hears an element of some other field of music in it, they think that's what it is. If it helps people grasp it, I have no problem with that. Personally, there is music to which I listen that I'd not be able to categorize; for example, much in the ECM Records catalogue, and I think our music is like that as well.
Carl Clements: This kind of question is intriguing, but always a bit difficult to address. Kevin and I have a long history in music, both together and separately. We really do try not to be inhibited by genre categories or restrictions, and strive for a kind of immediacy and spontaneity in our interactions and musical development. But weíre inevitably informed by everything weíve listened to in the past. Iíd say much more often than not, this is on an unconscious or subconscious level. In fact, I think there are times when we realize weíre veering into familiar territory and make it a point to change the direction into less familiar pathways. There are certainly times, though, when I will try to capture or explore the energy of a specific musical style, for example Hindustani classical music. But I usually try to limit this to an inspiration rather than an emulation. And there are certain music's that one or the other of us will have studied more than the other, so we may often be drawing on different inspirations at the same moment of a recording. This for me just enriches the experience, and helps prevent the music from becoming predictable and formulaic. On the other hand, we do share many of the same musical inspirations, so there is plenty of common ground.
mwe3: Kevin, can you reflect on how you feel youíre developing as a master of the 30 string and 36 string guitar? Can you also tell the readers something about your evolution or development as a guitarist? For instance, how and at what point did you go from six string guitar to fourteen-string guitar and onwards and upwards? Also can you explain to the readers how your 30 string and 36 string guitars are different from harp guitars and other stringed instruments that go beyond the traditional six and/or seven string guitars? And is there a story you can share with the readers about the making of the 36 string Double Contraguitar?
Kevin Kastning: Thank you, Robert; that is very kind of you to say, but I am the master of nothing. For me, the word "master" implies that you've reached the pinnacle of the instrument and can go no farther; for me, nothing could be further from the truth. The process of learning the 30 and 36 is that of learning new instruments. As soon as I start feeling as if I'm making some headway with them, I'll hit upon some new technique or possibilities and feel like I'm starting over again; it is a humbling path to say the least. It's a lifelong search. Their secrets are revealed to me slowly over time.
They are very different from harp guitars. Harp guitars are usually a traditional 6-string with the addition of 3, 5, or 7 low bass drone strings. Drone strings meaning they're open and have no fingerboard; therefore each string is capable of exactly one fixed pitch, like a harp; hence the name. When this is compared to a bass string on the 36, which is capable of 25 fixed pitches, because all the strings are on the fingerboard, it's really not a fair comparison. I've heard some lovely music performed on harp guitar, but it doesn't appeal to me for my music; it's too limiting.
I arrived at the design of these instruments over a 10-year period of evolution and personal artistic expansion, for lack of a better term. My first extended-range instrument was made for me by Santa Cruz back in 2004. This was a 6-string baritone, but tuned to F#. Baritones are usually tuned to C or B, so the F# instrument was a big step forward in expanding the range of baritone. The following year, I designed the 12-string extended baritone; also in F#. I used it almost exclusively in altered tunings. This was my main instrument from 2005 to 2010, when I invented the 14-string Contraguitar, which was beautifully built for me by Dan Roberts at Daniel Roberts Stringworks in Montana. An aside: in 2008, I developed the 12-string Alto guitar with Santa Cruz. This instrument is pitched a fourth higher than concert 6-string tuning. The advent of the Alto allowed me to extend the guitar's treble register, just as the Contras extended the bass registers. The Alto provided a lovely counterpart to the Contras. The Contraguitar is a full octave lower than concert-tuning 6-string guitar at its core; plus the 14-string version has one additional treble course, a high A. The following year, I commissioned Dan to build a 16-string Contraguitar; this expanded on the 14-string Contra by way of a high D treble course above the high A course. That was so successful for me that I sent the 14-string back to him and asked him to covert it to a 17-string: the addition of the treble high D course, and on the bass side, a single course low B below E. Those were my two main instruments for a couple of years; I kept the 17-string in octave tunings, and the 16-string in altered tunings. You can hear these instruments on Dreaming As I Knew (14-string Contraguitar, 12-string Alto guitar ), and Nowhere, Now Here (30-string Contra-Soprano guitar, 17-string Contraguitar, 16-string Contraguitar). The Contraguitars were a whole new world for me, but the lines between them immediately began to blur. It began to feel limiting to me to be locked in to either octave or altered tunings for an entire composition; simultaneously I began hearing and composing pieces for both tunings within the same composition. Same for the Contraguitar and the Alto guitar: I was internally hearing and them composing these incredibly wide-range compositions for both Contra and Alto guitar within the same composition.
I wanted to combine the Contra and the Alto into a single instrument so that I could achieve and realize these compositions. But the massive pressure of 29 strings would collapse any wood guitar. To wit: the pounds / pressure on a 6 string, steel-string acoustic is around 140-160 pounds. On a 12 string, it's up to around 220 pounds. On the 30 string, it is over 500 pounds. It's far beyond that on the 36. It was about this time that I heard of Alistair Hay, a brilliant and adventurous luthier at Emerald Guitars in Ireland; he was building instruments which contained no wood: everything was all carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is a rather magical material for instruments in that it is stronger than steel, but still very lightweight and resonant. I met Alistair and proposed my idea of the combined Contra and Alto guitars into a single instrument. He was excited about it, and agreed to build it. During the design phase, I added an octave string to the low B, bringing the string count up to 30; that instrument is the 30-string Contra-Soprano guitar. It arrived in 2013 and overnight became my main instrument; I used it rather extensively on Nowhere, Now Here. As soon as it arrived, I began speaking with Alistair about my concept of a double Contraguitar: two 18-string Contraguitars on one body. Again, he was excited about this possibility, and in early 2014, the Double Contraguitar arrived. Carbon fiber was not only the perfect vehicle for these instruments; they couldn't exist without it. Now my main instruments are the 30 and the 36; in fact, I hear them and approach them as two halves of the same instrument; in my mind it's a single 66-string instrument that happens to be split into two physically separate instruments.
Right now, there are two more instruments in the works with Alistair and Emerald; the first of these is an 18-string classical guitar, and should be completed in time to press into service on the recording sessions of the next record of Carl and I.
mwe3: On Watercolor Sky, Carl is playing alto flute which is a new instrument for him. Where and when was the instrument built? How did he use that instrument to color his sound on the new CD and how does playing with alto flute bring out certain timbers in the guitar? How does alto flute compare sonically to other types of flutes?
Carl Clements: My alto flute is a 2012 Jupiter DiMedici. I had been wanting an alto flute for years, and finally reached a point where I felt I could afford to buy one. I think itís added a lot to our recordings. It allows me to get a deeper, richer sound, and explore a lower flute register. I might like to record some tracks in the future in which I use both the alto flute and the regular C flute in order to explore a more extended flute range. This expanded range is very compatible with the large range Kevin has available on his 36 string Double Contraguitar. I have a similar situation with soprano and tenor saxophones, and I have bansuri flutes in many different registers.
mwe3: Many of the other Greydisc CDs were recorded in a few days but the Watercolor Sky album was recorded over a longer period of time, from the winter into the spring of 2014. How did taking longer to work and record the tracks on Watercolor Sky during different seasons impact the feel or mood of the tracks?
Kevin Kastning: Because Carl and I live about an hour away from each other, we can work in shorter recording sessions than my other projects, which are usually one or two all-day studio days. As it turned out, the sessions for the album that would become Watercolor Sky were spread out mostly over autumn and winter 2013/2014. I have a deep resonance with both of those seasons as they exist in New England. They're very intense and yet for me, also spiritual. I suspect this had an impact on our concepts and performances during the recording sessions.
Carl Clements: Generally speaking, Kevin and I can record our CDs at a more leisurely pace than other Greydisc artists since we live relatively close to each other. This is a nice luxury that allows us to create a number of tracks to choose from. Iím not sure that weíve deliberately set out to do seasonally-inspired tracks, but since both Kevin and I are both strongly inspired by the seasons, Iím sure that they affect the mood in significant ways.
mwe3: What kinds of tunings to you use on the Watercolor Sky tracks? Were there any very unusual tunings that were used and what are your favorite keys to record in?
Kevin Kastning: Carl and I only approach finite keys as they relate to the bansuri flute that he is using on a given piece, as each bansuri is pitched in a specific key. Otherwise, we don't discuss keys, but do discuss tonal centers and harmonic references. It's usually more of a pan-tonal approach. The tunings I used were the full octave tunings and my various intervallic tunings.
Carl Clements: Iíll mostly leave this one to Kevin. But Iíd say that most of our tracks donít end up being limited to a single key. Sometimes weíll settle into a more limited tonal area, but I think that more often we travel through many key areas, or take a more atonal approach.
mwe3: What was involved in the manufacture and maintenance of the 36 string guitar? Where was it made and how much influence did you have in its design? Is the art form and practice of playing the 36 a growing thing? What kind of strings was the instrument designed to use?
Kevin Kastning: It was made in Ireland, and while it was my invention, the design was in many ways divided between Alistair and I. I explained the specs and requirements to him; elements like number of strings, scale length, tunings, string gauges and types, spacing and spread at the nut and bridge, type of tuners, soundholes, neck profiles, action measurements, and fingerboard radius. He then suggested the body type and size and dimensions, and set about designing things like the peghead size and shape (a big task for an 18-string neck with mixed guitar and bass tuners), the bridge design, which is very critical and rather difficult when using mixed sets of guitar and bass strings, the voicing, and various structural issues. I am an artist endorser for Emerald, as well as K&K Sound, makers of my favorite pickups. Alistair and I worked with Dieter Kaudel at K&K to design the stereo pickup systems specifically for these instruments. The strings on each neck are a mix of guitar and bass strings, and on the 36, the gauges range from .125 to .012, and utilize various winding compounds. I am also an artist endorser for John Pearse Strings, so all strings are by John Pearse.
mwe3: Carl, what was it like to perform and record with Kevin's 36-string Double Contraguitar? Did you have to change your approach, did you select different instruments to pair with it, did it affect any of your range or what you'd normally play?
Carl Clements: Aside from issues Iíve addressed in answering some of the previous questions, I donít think my instrument selection or range choice was strongly affected by the pairing with Kevinís 36 string Double Contraguitar. I try to use all of my main instruments in our recording sessions, and I usually explore a fairly wide range on all of them. But the textures Kevin is able to create on this instrument definitely inspire explorations in new directions for both of us.
mwe3: How do you both grow as musicians? Is it something to do with the practicing, rehearsing and studying side and do you feel you can you improve as musicians by listening to genres of music that are sometimes totally outside of your own musical spheres? What are some of your secrets that help you improve both as a musicians and as a composers / artists?
Kevin Kastning: I maintain a daily practice regimen. My "practicing" instruments are the 30-string Contra-Soprano guitar, the 36-string Double Contraguitar, and 6-string classical guitar. I recently acquired a psaltery; that is certainly expanding my thinking as I begin to learn it. I keep a notebook of manuscript paper next to me when I practice; often a practice session transmogrifies into a composing session. To clear myself out, I play piano, and when composing non-guitar-based compositions, I use piano exclusively. I listen to music every day. Right now, for artists outside my genre, I'm listening to R. Carlos Nakai; a Native American flautist, and Byungki Hwang. Though both are probably outside my genre, if in fact I have a genre, both are certainly influential. I am usually reading a music research or reference book; at present I'm reading "The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven" by Charles Rosen. This book has caused me to reassess many things; for example, the Haydn string quartets. I've been listening to those rather intensely over a year now. Increasing my depth of knowledge and understanding of these music's never fails to have a deep impact on what I do and further serves to expand my own work; both as a composer and performer. I'm also currently focusing on listening to and analyzing Schubert's last three piano sonatas. I've started sketching out a solo composition based on some of the elements in Schubert's D. 959.
Time spent in nature is essential for me as well. I live kind of out in the woods in New England, and I go out in all weather, almost every day, whether it's just a short meander in the forest around my house, or a longer expedition on nearby hiking trails.
Carl Clements: I practice as much as I can on a daily basis in order to maintain and develop my technique, to increase my repertoire in jazz and Hindustani classical music, and to explore new directions. I also compose my own music, which I believe helps me to consolidate and conceptualize many of the ideas that Iíve been developing through improvisation. Iím also an ethnomusicologist as well as a musician. Much of my inspiration to become an ethnomusicologist came from my desire to understand music on as many levels as possible, and in as many diverse forms as I can encounter. There are far too many musical forms in this world for me to hope to really understand, however, so my primary concentrations as a performer are jazz, Hindustani classical, and various forms of creative improvisation. So as much as I love Persian classical music or West African drumming, for example, I realize that these and numerous other music's will probably remain more peripheral influences. I listen to a variety of music's, but jazz and Hindustani classical music provide me with my most solid foundations as a player. As much as I love jazz and enjoy playing more ďtraditionalĒ styles like bebop, the true appeal of jazz for me is its flexibility as a platform for improvisation and its historical and present inclusiveness, at least in the hands of the musicians I most admire, such as John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, etc... But I wouldnít try to put a label on the kind of music Kevin and I do together.
mwe3: Whatís been the reaction of radio and print and web to your music? Is your music getting airplay in the U.S. and what other parts of the world are listening to your sound? How does the internet continue to expand your sound? Also what do you think about youtube? Is it good for music or bad?
Kevin Kastning: I feel very fortunate in that international radio and other media outlets, both in the US and other countries, have always been very receptive and supportive of my music; somewhat surprising to me because my work is not what I'd call "accessible," as much as I highly dislike that word. Various magazines have been very supportive, such as Guitar Player, Acoustic Guitar, FAME Magazine, and others; including and especially MWE3. I receive emails from listeners literally all over the world, telling me what my music means to them. A couple of years ago, I received a very heartfelt email from an artistic photographer in Russia who told me that it was my music that encouraged him to keep pursuing his art when he was about to give up on it. And again, for all the outpouring of support, I am very grateful.
Regarding YouTube, I think it's a mixed bag. I frequently use it as a massive music reference library; for example, if I run across a reference in the Charles Rosen book of a piece I don't have on CD, I'll run over to YouTube and find it and listen. I've purchased many, many CDs based on this: I don't rely on YouTube; I'd rather own the CD. It's far more convenient for me, and I like to support the artists to whom I'm listening. Sadly, I suspect I'm in the minority on this approach. I have started to slowly add some of my own music (and our music with Carl) to my YouTube channel. I think it's a good way to expand our audience; whether or not this will result in increased record sales (or download sales) is yet to be determined, but that's not really why I'm making it available on YouTube. For my music, I think of YouTube as another media outlet; like radio, for example. I don't think that all internet outlets are artist-friendly or helpful; I think Spotify is the enemy of the artist. Exposure is provided, yes; but royalties are almost nonexistent. In my opinion, Spotify exists by exploiting artists. Regardless, in many ways it is a new and exciting time in the music industry. The new methods and ways are still forming.
Carl Clements: Itís still a bit early in terms of reviews, but the initial responses weíve gotten have been very positive. Judging by the pre-review comments, Iím optimistic about getting some strong reviews. We seem to be getting a fair amount of airplay on stations that are willing to explore the outer boundaries a bit. Kevin might be more on top of all of this than me, though. YouTube is very much a mixed blessing for people trying to make a living with their music. In our case, though, I think releasing a few tracks on YouTube can be good for giving people a sampling of what we do. Hopefully those who like the tracks they hear on YouTube will choose to buy the album. Iíve also made a number of my live performance videos available on my website through YouTube, as these are versions that donít exist on any albums. Iím more skeptical about outlets like Spotify that allow people to listen to any of the tracks anytime while providing very little compensation to the artists. But again, some people still choose to use such outlets in the hope that it will raise their profiles. The question remains as to how the artists will ultimately be compensated, as even live performance seems to be dwindling, and the pay scale decreasing. I think thereís an uneasy relationship right now between musicians and internet outlets, and that the new music economy is in flux. Itís a difficult time for musicians in many ways, and weíre still trying to figure out how to navigate the new terrain.
mwe3: Do you feel your music would work even be more effective in a live setting and how about live shows in the future? It would be great to have a Greydisc music festival which could showcase several of the labelís artists? Where and when would you like to have that happen?
Kevin Kastning: My music with Carl and my other partners certainly works well in live settings; I've done two European concert tours with Sandor Szabo, and another one is in the works for 2015. Carl and I have had performances in our area and in New York City. A Greydisc concert festival would be great fun! Good idea, Robert.
Carl Clements: Kevin and I have done several live performances in New York and in Amherst, MA, and we plan to do more. And I know Kevin has done some performances abroad with Sandor Szabo and Balazs Major in Hungary and performed in New York with Mark Wingfield. A Greydisc music festival sounds like a great idea to me, though funding would be an issue to contend with. It would be wonderful if Greydisc could manage it somehow, though.
mwe3: What other musical activities do you have planned for this year and next and are you planning a follow up for 2015, and what about the other forthcoming projects on Greydisc that have been recorded and/or that are planned for release in 2014 and 2015?
Kevin Kastning: Carl and I have most of our next record already in the can. We'll be doing some additional recording sessions this fall to finish it. I'm in talks with Sandor about some trio (Sandor, Carl, myself) and quartet (Sandor, Carl, Balazs Major, and myself) recording session dates. All involved are excited about these projects; right now it's a matter of logistics as we all live in different countries and scheduling is arduous at best. My new album with Mark Wingfield is slated for release on Greydisc in late October 2014. Mark and I were in the studio in July of this year to record our 2015 album. The 2015 record is based on a rather unusual concept for us; I even played mandolin on two of the pieces. Mark and I are also planning an album involving us and an orchestral string section. We'll both be composing the orchestral parts. Sandor and I recorded a duo album on the 2009 European tour that's yet to be released, but I think it will be in either late 2014/early 2015. Sandor and I are also beginning work on an album we're calling the 52-string project wherein I'll be using the 36-string Double Contraguitar, and he'll be using his 16-string lute and 16-string guitar. Cellist David Darling and I are still trying to get our schedules to line up for our duo album recording sessions; I'm really looking forward to that. Same for bassist Michael Manring and I; we're planning a second album together, and I am very much looking forward to that. I think Wingfield and I have some concerts in the UK next year, and Carl and I will be back in New York City for some concerts next year as well. Additionally, dates are being discussed for Wingfield and I in New York City in 2015. And work on my solo album is progressing; albeit very slowly. The new instrument that is in the works at Emerald will be used for several of these projects, in addition to my main instruments, the 30 and 36.
Carl Clements: We already have some tracks recorded that will likely be on our next recording to be released in 2015, and weíll be doing more recording sessions for this album in the near future. Weíve been wanting to do a quartet recording with Kevin and I plus Sandor Szabo and Balazs Major for a while now, and there might be a possibility of fulfilling this wish next year. Itís difficult since Sandor and Balazs are in Hungary, but I think we all feel a strong desire to make it happen.
Thanks to Kevin Kastning and Carl Clements