sonic reflection looking back on the winter of 2011-2012, In
Winter is the latest guitar opus from New England guitarist
Kevin Kastning. A collaboration between Kastning and
electric bass icon Michael Manring, the 20 track, 73 minute
In Winter CD is filled with more amazing Kastning guitar extrapolations
that tastefully blur the musical borders of jazz, New Age, neo-classical
and acoustic guitar instrumental. In the CD liner notes, Guitar Player
editor Barry Cleveland describes the CD as creating a sense
of reflective quietude and tranquility, a mélange of
colors and hes quite right about the depth of musical
expression both Manring and Kastning possess and are quiet capable
of executing and encompassing. Even though there is a strong sense
of musical experimentalism on In Winter, that feeling is almost
superseded by a warm, fuzzy feeling that creates a sense of deja vu,
guiding you to a kind of musical place you feel youve been before
and also want to go back to. For those keeping score, Kastnings
guitars of choice on In Winter include his famous 14 string
Contraguitar, which adds in shimmering, harp like sounds throughout
the CD, while Manring helps the CD soar into the sonic stratosphere
thanks to his amazing work on his Zon basses. Echoing the spirit of
Kastnings other current CD releasesincluding Triptych
with guitarist Sándor
and percussionist Bálazs
Major and Dreaming AS I Knew with horn player Carl
ClementsIn Winter was mixed and mastered by his musical
his native Hungary. Guitar fans who blissed out to 70s ECM album
classics from original masters like John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner,
as well as some of Pat Methenys more experimental albums will
find much to enjoy here. A work of veritable musical wonder by two
gifted, kindred virtuosos, In Winter is one of the most awesome
sounding musical collaborations thus far in the 21st century. www.KevinKastning.com
June 2012 Kevin Kastning spoke to mwe3.com about In Winter}
presents an interview with
mwe3: You have been quite prolific during the past few years.
Can you say something about your 2012 In Winter CD recorded
with Michael Manring, how did the CD come together and how did you
KK: Hi Robert. Yes, its been a very busy couple of years
for sure; three album releases in 2011, and five this year, plus the
European tour. There are already four slated for release next year,
with another European tour, and its only June!
The album with Michael was recorded during two days in October 2011
at Studio Traumwald in northern Massachusetts. How I met Michael is
a story that goes back about five years. My duo partner Sándor
Szabo, who lives in Hungary, has recorded and toured with Michael
for several years. One day about five years ago, Sándor asked
me if I knew Michael. I said no, but Ive long admired his work.
I remember hearing one of Michael Hedges albums in the early
to mid 80s, and really being knocked out by the bassist; of
course that bassist was Michael Manring. Sándor said, You
should call him. You and he would fit
together musically very well. I said OK. About a year later,
Sándor asked if Id called him. I said no. Again he said
You need to call him. Call him! This conversation would
happen about once per year. Then, in March 2011, I was in the studio
with Alex de Grassi, recording our album together. One afternoon we
took a break, and Alex, who has worked with Michael, said to me, Do
you know Michael Manring? I said no. Alex said, You should
get to know him, I think you guys would really hit it off artistically.
I said OK. In fall 2010, I was interviewed by Barry Cleveland at Guitar
Player magazine for a feature article in Guitar Player, which appeared
in the Holiday 2010 issue. It was a pretty long interview; what appeared
in print was an abbreviated version of the entire interview, so during
the course of that interview, Barry and I started to get to know each
other. Then again in summer 2011, Barry interviewed me again for an
article about the recording of I walked into the silver darkness.
That article appeared in the September 2011 issue of Guitar Player,
and after doing a couple of interviews, Barry and I had gotten to
know each other and stayed in touch. Barry has worked with Michael
for well over 20 years, and knows him quite well. One day, Barry said,
Do you know Michael Manring? You two should work together.
I said No, I dont know him, but youre the third
person thats said that to me! I hadnt contacted
Michael because I felt awkward about introducing myself, even though
both Sándor and Barry had told me that Michael knew of me and
my music. Barry asked if Id like him to make the introductions,
and I said sure. About a week later, Michael contacted me. We discussed
the possibility of doing an album together, and scheduled some studio
time for October 2011. Those recording sessions would go on to become
the album In Winter.
mwe3: How does In Winter compare to your earlier released
titles, solo and with your other collaborators? For instance, your
album I walked into the silver darkness was recorded with U.K.
guitarist Mark Wingfield. Compare working with Michael Manring and
Mark and what challenges involved with working with another guitarist
versus say a jazz bassist such as Michael Manring?
KK: Ive worked in duo with various bassists over the
years, so that setting always feels very familiar and cozy to me.
However, this is the first record of me and a bassist. Compositionally,
the approach with Michael wasnt all that different than the
approach with Mark Wingfield or anyone else, really. The one thing
that I did have to take into consideration was instrument range. My
main instrument is the 14-string Contraguitar, and the lower registers
of that instrument are the exact same as the bass. Obviously, the
upper registers exceed bass registers, but the lower registers overlap.
There are some pieces on the record where Im playing the Contra,
but I utilized the classical guitar and my 12-string Alto guitar (in
various tunings) more on this record than on the other recent albums.
The Alto really clicked into place as far as its register and fitting
with and complimenting Michaels bass registers. Compare this
to working with Mark or Sándor; the Contraguitar is well below
the register of a concert-tuned 6-string, and the Alto is of course
well above it, so register considerations didnt come into play
in those instances. In those situations, it wasnt about registers,
but about elements such as tunings, combinations of instrument voices,
and so on. Utilizing different guitars such as the Contra or the Alto
would have a very direct impact on what I would or could play on any
given piece, so the choice of instruments played a role in determining
the direction and content of the pieces. Michael arrived at the studio
with four basses, and he uses different tunings, too, so there was
a very wide range of tonalities, tunings, registers, and more to consider
for each piece.
Your new CD with Michael Manring is called In Winter. How much
did that time of the year effect the style and content of the album?
Were the tracks written before you went in the studio and how did
you and Michael Manring collaborate on the composition of the In
KK: Nothing was composed before we went into the studio. We
had a few discussions about that prior to the recording dates; as
in, did we want to bring compositions, or did we want to mail compositions
to each other ahead of time, and so forth. I suggested nothing be
composed in advance. I had a strong sense that Michael and I would
connect similar to the connections I have with Sándor and Wingfield,
and would be able to create pieces in real-time as I do with both
of them. That intuition turned out to be exactly right.
Once Michael and I were in the studio, there were various ways we
would begin a piece. We would begin by discussing instrument combinations,
as in which instrument wed each play, how the voice and register
would work, and how our tunings might fit together. Keep in mind that
we both use tunings of our own invention or discovery. Then, we would
discuss elements such as form, composition, who would begin and how,
or if the beginning would be in unison, the meter and tempo of the
piece, and maybe other details. Then tape would roll and wed
play. The result is what you hear on the record; no overdubs, no edits.
The only exception to the no-edits rule are the Moments Remembrance
series of three miniature pieces. Those were excerpts from pieces
which were not released on the album, and had some bits of manipulation
at mix time.
We chose the title due to winter being a more creative time for us.
I am a true winter person, and I always feel as if I get more composing
and recording done in winter. For me, winter is just a magical, enchanted,
spiritual time. Its a deeper season. I felt like this was a
very special record, and even though it was recorded in autumn, the
recording and creative processes felt as if it was taking place in
winter. I felt that the spiritual qualities I feel during the winter
season were present in the compositions on the album. I suggested
the title to Michael, and he agreed that it was a fitting title.
mwe3: What guitars are you featuring on the In Winter album
and can you say something about the different strings you use on your
guitars? Also what sort of sound and tone were you and Michael going
for on In Winter and what were some of the bass guitars Michael
used on the CD?
Michael used the Zon Sonus Elite Special bass, Zon Hyperbass,
and the Zon VB-4 bass. In the studio, he records all DI; no amps.
I used the 14-string Roberts KK-Contraguitar C1, the 12-string Santa
Cruz KK-Alto guitar, the 6-string Santa Cruz DKK bass-baritone, and
the Cervantes Rodriguez classical guitar. All my instruments are miced
in stereo. In fact, I have a stereo pair for the Contras, and another
stereo pair for everything else. My strings are by John Pearse, but
I put together all the sets and gauges. On the 14-string Contra, the
gauges run from an .085 or .090 bass string on the low E up to a .016
on the high A. For those sets, I mix together multiple wrapping compounds:
nickel, phosphor bronze, and 80/20 bronze all within the same set.
I find this provides a much better balance and more responsive voice,
especially when using nickel-wound bass strings; they just speak better
in that register than do bronze wound. Not only a better balance across
all the registers, but they speak and respond quicker than bronze-wound
compounds on the lowest bass strings and courses. I find that the
nickel-wounds in the bass register provide for additional clarity
and separation. Same for the Alto; I make up my own sets and they
often consist of mixed wrapping compounds. I also keep the action
quite low, and that affects the tone and voice as well. For the classical,
I prefer extra-hard tension strings.
We didnt discuss an overall tone for the recordings regarding
instrument sounds and voices. We each came into the studio with our
usual instruments and setups. They all blended really beautifully.
I use various intervallic tunings of my own invention on the double-course
instruments, and Michael had various bass tunings of his own through
which he would modulate. We found some tunings of his and mine that
really worked very well together.
mwe3: What impact did you collaborator Sándor Szabó
have on the making of the In Winter album and what did Sándor
add to the final mixing and mastering of the In Winter album?
How are the CDs received and reviewed in Sándors country
of Hungary? What are your impressions of Hungary for music and life
KK: Sándor had a tremendous impact. He did all the mixing
and mastering, and gets the producer credit on the record. Sándor
was critical to this album, and I am very grateful to him for his
work and direction and support.
My albums seem to be consistently well-received in Europe and Hungary;
the airplay and reviews are always very positive. When Ive toured
there, the concerts are well-attended and its not unusual for
us to sell out small to medium concert halls. Hungary is a beautiful
country; Im surprised it doesnt have more of a tourism
industry. I like it there. The people are super friendly and sweet
and always take great care of me, which is very humbling, and I appreciate
it very much. The Hungarians all seem to possess a beautiful soul.
I dont get too much of a flavor of a communist country there;
at least for what I see when on tour. Things seem pretty open, and
I always feel at ease and relaxed there. I dont really think
of it any differently than I would any other country when touring.
mwe3: How does In Winter compare sound wise to your
earlier released titles, I walked into the silver darkness with
U.K. guitarist Mark Wingfield as well as your album, Triptych
with Sándor Szabó and Balázs and your recent
CD you made with Carl Clements called Dreaming As I Knew. In
what sequence were these albums recorded and released and did one
impact the other? Can you say something about each title?
release dates were: I walked into the silver darkness in June
2011, Triptych in December 2011, Dreaming As I Knew
in March 2012, and In Winter in May 2012. They were not recorded
in the order of release.
Triptych was a very different album for me for a few reasons.
It was my fifth album release with Sándor, but my first album
with percussionist Balazs Major. We recorded it during the 2009 European
tour on a day off between concerts. The album was recorded on-location
in an old church in a tiny village in Hungary which dates from circa
800 AD called Nograd. In fact, Sándor and I recorded a new
duo album there the day before the trio sessions; that album is as
yet unreleased, but should be out in 2013. Sándor and Balazs
have worked together for something like 30 years, so I was familiar
with Balazs work; have been for several years. I consider him
to be a true artist. He is like a painter in many ways; he can create
more unusual atmospheres than any other percussionist I know. Balazs
has a tremendously affectionate and gentle heart, and that really
comes across in his work. The day of the recording sessions was the
first time Id ever played with Balazs, and the performances
happened just like you hear them on the record. Each piece is composed
I walked into the silver darkness was recorded in the US in
November 2010. That was my first recording date with British guitarist
Mark Wingfield. I used the 14-string Contraguitar pretty extensively
on that record which for me was noteworthy because it was the first
album for the Contra, and at the time of the sessions, I had only
had it for barely two months. I was still learning the instrument
(well in all truth, I am still learning it!), but I loved how it blended
with Marks highly unusual and unique electric voice. Each piece
on that album was also a real-time composition.
Dreaming As I Knew was recorded at various times in 2009 through
2011. Carl and I would schedule a night in the studio when our schedules
would allow; he does a lot of traveling, and I am starting to tour
more and more, so it took a while to get our schedules to line up.
That album was also entirely improvised in the studio. However, Carl
and I have a slightly different working approach. He might play a
motif and we discuss what we want to do with it, or I might suggest
instrument combinations and then play something with which Ill
begin a piece and well talk about that a little before rolling
tape. Things get more discussion than with my other partners, but
once tape rolls, each piece is entirely improvised. I think Carl and
I have played together for so long that we have a pretty good sense
of where the other is going to go; you can hear passages on Dreaming
As I Knew that sound entirely written out when in fact it was
all improvised. I think part of that comes from playing together for
over 25 years.
As for how In Winter compares sound-wise to the other recent
works, I think the recording quality is quite good, as are the other
records you mentioned. It required a slightly different approach in
the studio, as Michael goes direct and Im miced. Electric
bass is still an acoustic instrument, so there are spots on the album
where you can hear my mics picking up the acoustic sounds of Michaels
bass. All the albums you mentioned were mixed using the Bricasti M7
reverb. A different approach is used at mix time for each album, as
all the instrument combinations on those records are different; different
instruments and combinations require different mix strategies.
I dont know that any of those albums had a direct impact on
any other. Each one is with different collaborators, different settings,
and different instruments. Or perhaps I should say that if there is
an impact or connection, I dont know where or what or how. What
is your perception of that?
mwe3: Last time we spoke in 2011, you mentioned the album just
recorded with Michael Manring as well as other albums you had planned
with Carl Clements, Belgian lutenist Gilbert Isbin and guitarist Alex
De Grassi, along with other planned titles with Sándor, a second
album with Mark Wingfield and more. Are they still on track for release?
Is there a DVD planned too?
KK: Yeah, theyre all on track and more. The album releases
for 2012 are the record with Carl, Dreaming As I Knew, which
was released in March; In Winter, with Michael and myself was
released May 29, and a new duo album with Sándor which was
recorded during the 2012 Triptych European tour and will be
out in late July 2012. And this is a very different project for us,
as Sándor is playing guzheng, which is a 21-string Korean harp,
as well as various guitars, including a 10-string viola guitar. Im
playing Contraguitar, Alto guitar, 12-string Bass-baritone, baritone
classical guitar, Octave guitar, Ebow, and even piano on this record.
This record is the first time weve used that combination of
instruments in the studio.
The new one with Mark Wingfield is in the can, and will be out around
September October 2012. The record with lutenist Gilbert Isbin
is recorded and mixed, and will be out in November 2012. 2013 already
has four confirmed releases, and I have some upcoming recording projects
this year and in 2013 with some well-known artists with whom Ive
never worked; I cant mention whom just yet, but I am excited
about those and will be announcing it on my website as soon as possible.
I think a couple of those may come as a bit of a surprise to some
walked into the silver darkness was recorded in November 2010,
and released in June 2011. Mark came back to the US in November 2011,
and we recorded material for two more albums; the first of those will
be released this fall, around September. Incidentally, Mark and I
are doing a live on-the-air radio performance in early November this
year on WFMU in New York City, and on November 5, well be appearing
in concert at Drom in NYC. While hes here this year, we also
have a couple of days scheduled to go back into the studio to record
another album. I really connect artistically very well with Mark;
his various and highly individualistic electric guitar voices blend
so well with my various extended-range acoustic instruments. Im
really looking forward to our next recording sessions.
The album with Carl Clements was completed last fall, and was released
in March 2012; that album is entitled Dreaming As I Knew. Carl
and I are already at work recording our next album, which will be
released in 2013. I met Carl at Berklee when we were both students
there in 1985. Weve played together since then, but Dreaming
is our first album together. He is a very sensitive and flexible musician,
equally at home on tenor and soprano saxophones, flutes, and a range
of Indian bansuri flutes, which is a bamboo flute and has a very soulful
and warm tone quality. Carl is a wonderful artist.
Alex de Grassi and I met in the studio in March 2011, and recorded
material for two albums. This was an unusual project for us both,
and we are both very pleased with the outcome. Im not sure when
the first album from those sessions will be out; Alex and I are still
discussing release dates.
Gilbert Isbin is a Lutenist and composer based in Belgium. We were
in the studio the week after Michael and I. Gilbert is a very rare
and unique artist in that hes playing 11-course lute, a rather
renaissance instrument, but hes composing and performing these
beautiful 21st-century pieces for it. To hear complex modern harmony
coming from a lute is just stunningly beautiful to me. His lute blended
really well with Contraguitar and Alto guitar. Those pieces are like
21st-century chamber compositions; very unusual. The recording for
that album is complete, and it will be released in November 2012.
I have an album project coming up which is a duo album of cellist
David Darling and myself; I am looking forward to that very much.
During a day off on the 2012 European tour, Sándor, Balazs
Major, and I recorded two new trio records. The first of those will
be released in 2013. This is the same trio as the Triptych album,
but this album is compositionally more extended, and we added more
instruments this time around. Sándor played guzheng, along
with various guitar family instruments. I played 12-string bass-baritone,
baritone classical, and also piano. Balazs utilized a more extended
kit on this one, too.
As for a DVD, two concerts on the 2012 European tour for Triptych
were filmed by and for Hungarian television. I dont know what
the plans are for those, but I would like to see them made available.
Also, I believe the concert at Drom with Mark Wingfield in New York
is to be filmed, too.
mwe3: How do you maintain such a busy schedule while practicing
guitar and life and what are the other titles are slated for release
this year too as well as other plans involving your music?
KK: I have a pretty ingrained practicing schedule. I rarely
go a day without practicing. It takes a lot of focus and energy to
keep improving on all the different instruments, and you add something
like the 14-string Contraguitar to the mix, which is like starting
over on a new instrument
well, I have to work on it every day.
And there are times where I need to hear the Contra.
It is such an entirely other voice and sound and a whole
new planet that sometimes I just need to hear that, to be surrounded
by and immersed in that soundworld. So that phenomena serves to augment
the practicing schedule, too.
think by now weve discussed most of the upcoming 2012 releases.
2013 will see new duo albums released by myself and Mark Wingfield,
a new duo record with Carl Clements, the new trio record with Sándor
and Balazs, and it is possible that the duo album recorded in Nograd
in 2009 will be released in 2013, too. Michael Manring and I are recording
another album this year, which should be out in 2013. Plus the other
projects that I cant mention just yet. And the album with cellist
David Darling is coming soon. Oddly enough, Ive had a surprising
number of people contact me or talk to me after concerts and ask when
my solo album is going to be available. Most of those were people
that like my music, but a few were concert promoters and music journalists
like yourself, so this is all making me think I need to focus a bit
more on the solo works. I dont want to predict when that will
be out, as its a slow process, but it is in the works. I was
asked to do a solo on-the-air performance for a radio station in New
York City next year, so yeah
that will happen.
Once the record with Gilbert Isbin is released, well have some
concert dates in Europe to support that album; that will be in 2013.
And there is another European tour in 2013 for the Triptych trio to
support the new trio record. Carl wants to do some dates in New York
City, so I expect to be driving down to NYC with more frequency next
I was asked to contribute a track to the 2012/2013 compilation album
for the International Fretless Artists. I finished that last month,
a solo fretless guitar piece. Ill be appearing in the IFA concerts
in New York City in October 2012.
Since you and I last spoke, I commissioned another 14-string Contraguitar;
that arrived in December 2011. That one is known as C2; the first
one is C1. Ive been using C2 in my own intervallic and altered
tunings. C1 remains in octave tuning. Also on C2, Ive been working
with Hipshot on their Bass Xtender tuners, there are a set of those
on C2. That allows a much wider variation of tunings in addition to
my other sets of tunings. Each string on a Bass Xtender tuner has
three tuned pitches through which you can toggle, instead of just
one pitch. Ive been using capos in various unorthodox ways on
C2 as well. Ive been working with Nick Campling at G7 Performance
Capos, and hes been supplying me with some excellent tools for
this. Ive already been using C2 on the sessions with Carl for
our next album, and will be using it on the upcoming sessions with
both Mark and Michael later this year. There are two tracks on the
new record with Sándor that will be released next month wherein
Im using C2 as well.
this year there is an interesting project happening with Dan Roberts
at Daniel Roberts Stringworks. As you know, Dan is the master luthier
that created the 14-string Contraguitars for me. I have been working
classical guitar into the albums more and more. There are some tracks
wherein Im playing classical on I walked into the silver
darkness, Dreaming As I Knew, and In Winter. And
the new album with Sándor thats out next month has some
pieces where Im playing baritone classical, which is a gorgeous
and rich voice. But after playing so much on double-course instruments
like the 12-string bass-baritone, 12-string Alto, 12-string octave
guitar, and the 14-string Contras, working with single-course instruments
feels limiting, like something is missing. So this year, Dan and I
are collaborating again on another new instrument. This one will be
an 8-course 16-string classical guitar. I am excited about that, and
already have one album project slated for early 2013 centering around
Another project Dan and I are doing this year is on C2. At the time
he was designing and building it, we were planning on making it a
16-string. So the bracing and voicing were done with that intent;
yet I was concerned about the string spread and spacing of 16 strings,
so at the last minute, I decided to keep it at 14 strings. Ive
been playing Contra now for almost two years, and I am finding that
I can still execute my usual classical-based technique without the
need for wider intra-course spacing. So, were going to add an
eighth course to C2 this year, making it a 16-string, as was originally
intended. That will certainly provide some new colors in the palette.
2013 is looking to be busier than this year for sure!
Thanks to Kevin Kastning @ www.KevinKastning.com