the past few years, American guitarist Kevin Kastning has emerged
from being a relatively unknown artist to making a name for himself
as both a rising guitarist and a musical conceptualist / visionary.
Kastnings recent releases include 2012 CD titles with long time
partner and co-guitarist Sándor Szabó as well as a second
CD release with U.K. fusion guitarist Mark Wingfield. Recorded at
the end of 2011, An Illustrated Silence captures the guitar
duo of Kastning and Wingfield in stellar form, improvising and sonic
surfing on a wave of improvised acoustic / electric harmonies. Even
though the notes fall right where they should, make no mistake about
is, An Illustrated Silence is angular and scales some impressive
sonic glaciers. Wingfields horn-like electric guitar embellishes
Kastnings intricate acoustic Metheny meets Fripp type sonic
fretboard extrapolations. Back in the 1970s Kastning would have fit
in perfectly on the ECM label or some other arty European label, but
as it stands, hes creating a wealth of guitar instrumental music
on his own Greydisc label while recording under his own name. Commenting
on the release of An Illustrated Silence, Kastning adds, 'Mark
and I have a very strong chemistry, something akin to subliminal communication
when performing, with Wingfield stating, I was very interested
to see if the chemistry of the first album was a one-off or if it
would still be there the next time we played together. I had a strong
feeling it would be there. When we started recording, if anything,
I felt the chemistry was even stronger on An Illustrated Silence.'
Even though all the music on An Illustrated Silence is
completely instrumental, the sound and vision Kastning and Wingfield
create on their second album together is simply awe-inspiring and
will leave you speechless. In the following November 2012 interview,
Kevin and Mark spoke about An Illustrated Silence. www.KevinKastning.com
presents an interview with
KEVIN KASTNING and
mwe3: What is the story and impetus behind the 2012 CD release
of An Illustrated Silence and when and where was the new album
planned and recorded?
An Illustrated Silence, the new album, was recorded in November
2011 in Massachusetts at Studio Traumwald, which was the same studio
where we recorded I walked into the silver
darkness in November 2010. Both albums were recorded in two days
each. The mood behind the sessions for An Illustrated Silence was
a bit different than the sessions for I walked into the silver
darkness which was our first album together. I think the first
album was perhaps a bit more cautious or exploratory, for lack of
a better word; the first time you work with someone obviously youre
not as completely comfortable as when youve worked with someone
previously and established a relationship and a communication. Although
Mark and I connected rather strongly practically from the first track
we recorded together. Hes a wonderful and unique artist, and
I feel fortunate to be working with him. The sessions for the first
album had no formal preconceptions; neither of us came into the studio
with anything composed or written out. In fact, for the first album,
I suggested we not bring any sketches or compositions into the studio
with us. This is an approach with which Im very comfortable,
but I think Mark was a little shocked; it was his first time he had
gone into a recording session with seemingly nothing prepared.
I suppose the planning for the new album began the day after the conclusion
of the recording sessions in 2010 for the album that would become
I walked into the silver darkness. We knew we had a great chemistry
and were kindred spirits; both as guitarists and composers. Both Mark
and I have each composed many pieces for classical chamber groups,
orchestra, and solo instruments, such as piano sonatas. We share some
of the same influences of composers and art, so were coming
at this from a very similar place, even though our instruments are
very different. Marks main instrument is 6-string electric guitar
with a myriad of processing and interesting voices; my main instruments
are the acoustic 16-string and 17-string Contraguitars.
I was really pleased with what happened during our first recording
session, which resulted in our first album, I Walked into the silver
darkness. So a second recording was something we discussed pretty
much immediately. I was very interested to see where else the music
would go when we got together a year later.
There really wasn't any planning as the album, like the last one,
was completely improvised. But I think with the new album we had perhaps
more of a sense of where we might head, just based on what we'd recorded
on the first session. Though for me this was more an intuitive feeling
than anything concrete or planned and I'm sure Kevin would agree.
KASTNING: I do agree indeed.
The year between the first two sessions really gave us a good opportunity
to step back, get some perspective on what wed done, and discuss
where we wanted to go.
Can you compare the sound, chemistry and mood and what you were going
for on An Illustrated Silence with the 2010 Kastning / Wingfield
album I walked into the silver darkness album, which was also
KASTNING: I wasnt really
thinking about the chemistry. I knew it was there. Mark is excellent
at real-time composing, and as a guitarist really has his own and
very unique voice. Mark and I have a very strong chemistry; something
akin to subliminal communication when performing. This is part of
the reason that the pieces on the albums sound like fully written-out
compositions; we both seem to know where the other is going at all
times. It also requires acute listening and being really tuned in
to what the other person is doing, responding appropriately to that,
and allowing the composition to flow and unfold organically, instead
of trying to force it into becoming something else. Which is really
the same approach I take for written compositions; I let them tell
me what they want and let them go where they need to go, like a river
meander. Again, with Mark also being a composer and not just a guitarist,
this is a tremendous commonality. I dont think we had any mood
defined. The one thing upon which we agreed at the outset of the Illustrated
Silence sessions was that we didnt want to make I
walked into the silver darkness II. There is a recent magazine
review that states that the new album has a sharper focus than the
first one, and Id agree with that. I think its deeper
and has a measure more intensity. I think we expanded and took more
chances on the new record, and you can feel that in the compositions
themselves. The overall soundscape between the two records is somewhat
similar; both were recorded in the same studio, and we used the same
arsenal of instruments on both. I think we both liked the overall
recorded atmosphere and mix of the first one, and hence did a similar
recording and mix approach in that regard for the second album.
WINGFIELD: I was very interested
to see if the chemistry of the first album was a one-off or if it
would still be there the next time we played together. I had a strong
feeling it would be there. When we started recording, if anything,
I felt the chemistry was even stronger on An Illustrated Silence.
Our approach is to improvise in a very particular sense of the word.
That is to aim to compose in real time. In a sense, to improvise as
if we were playing a composition. From this point of view also, I
felt the second album was even stronger. Though I still love what
we did on I walked into the silver darkness.
Kevin has a tremendous imagination and incredible skill at composing
on the spot, reacting to the situation and pulling something amazing
out of thin air. He's also consummately skilled at exploring the moment
if something really special emerges compositionally or atmospherically.
So working with him in such a musical environment is a real privilege.
also I think we see a lot of the same musical vistas in our imaginations
which is where part of the chemistry comes from. So we'll reach a
point in the music and both of us will sense where it needs to go
next and go there together, to the same place at the same time. I
think this is in part because we are both composers as well as players
and also that we like a lot of the same music.
mwe3: What guitars did you both use on An Illustrated Silence
and what other guitar news can you report regarding new guitars, new
guitar companies that youre working with, other gear and more?
KASTNING: My main instrument
for the An Illustrated Silence sessions was my Daniel Roberts
Stringworks Kevin Kastning 14-string 7-course Contraguitar model C1.
The Contraguitar has become my main instrument since 2010. Its
amazing to me; the possibilities on it are vast and deep. In fact,
I feel like Im still learning it. It is pitched a full octave
below guitar; the low four strings are the same pitches as a bass,
and it goes up to high A, well into the register of the Alto guitar.
The scale length is 30 inches, nut width is 3.25 inches. Its
a big beast.
I also utilized my Santa Cruz 12-string KK-Alto guitar, and the Cervantes
Rodriguez classical guitar. The Alto was used in various tunings of
Since the last studio dates with Mark, Ive added a second Contraguitar;
however, the new model is a 16-string instrument.
New developments with my instruments are mainly centered around the
Contraguitars. In 2010, I received the first 14-string 7-course Contraguitar.
A little background: the Contraguitar is by Daniel Roberts Stringworks.
Ive worked with Dan for twelve years now; he is an incredibly
brilliant and gifted luthier, and has become like an artistic partner
and collaborator to me. The full back-story for the Contra is on
my website, complete with the design and conception history and photos
of the build process, so I wont repeat it here. I use a lot
of unorthodox tunings on double-course instruments. Except for the
classical, all my main instruments in addition to the Contras are
double-course: the 12-string baritone, 12-string Alto guitar, and
12-string Octave guitar. All used in altered tunings. However, the
Contra was used in octave tunings on both albums with Mark. After
the first sessions with Mark, I started experimenting on the Contra
with altered tunings. In fact, a few months after those sessions,
I recorded an album with guitarist Alex de Grassi, and for those sessions,
I used the Contra in both octave and intervallic tunings. The problem
is that to use intervallic tunings, the instrument has to be set up
for that. It requires different string gauges and types; thus changing
the intonation at the bridge; as well as the action. As soon as I
knew that the Contra was becoming my main instrument, and that I wanted
to use it in both tuning scenarios, I contacted Dan Roberts and commissioned
a second Contraguitar. This one came to be known as C2, and I use
it in altered and intervallic tunings.
This year, both Contras were sent back to Dan for some modifications.
As I spent more and more time with them, it became apparent that an
additional treble course would further and extensively open up both
harmonic and melodic possibilities. The high A course (the highest
course on the 14-string configuration) was a big step in this direction,
but adding a high D course above A would allow me to further expand,
both harmonically and melodically. Both Contras would support a high
D course. We had originally designed the Contra neck width for 16
strings, so the required spacing was there and available. C2 is now
a 16-string 8-course instrument, and its amazing; just fantastic.
Dan did such a wonderful job with it. Ive also become an artist
endorser for Hipshot tuners, and I have three of their double-stop
bass Xtender tuners on C2, which allows for three possible pitches
for that string. So, when using C2 in intervallic tunings, I have
chords with up to 16 voicings. Add in the bass Xtenders, and I have
at once up to 22 different string pitches at one time. Ill be
adding the Xtenders to C1 soon, too.
using C2 as a 16-string for a while, and seeing how many new worlds
this unlocked, I was feeling limited when Id switch back to
C1 with only 14 strings. The nut width on C1 was wider than C2, so
not only was there space for adding the high D course, but we also
added a low B or C single course below low E; thus making C1 a 17-string
9-course Contraguitar. This is just a massive instrument. Id
often used the Xtender tuner on the low E on C2 by dropping it to
a low C, so I knew it would work, both physically and tonally. I did
utilize the low C tuning on C2 quite a bit prior to the C1 modification.
I also endorse for G7 Performance Capos, and Nick Campling at G7 has
been really supportive to me. I have various G7 capos I use on both
Contras, and I will sometimes capo off the top three or four courses
around the 8th or 9th fret, which adds a very high treble register
way above the other bass courses, which is a great effect. Its
an approach that really changes my thinking and forces me into a different
technique and mindset that provides new possibilities and options
otherwise unavailable. Using a capo in this manner makes the Contra
sound like Im playing two instruments at once. So, a long answer,
but Ill be using both Contras in various tunings on the upcoming
recording sessions with Mark.
Another texture with which Ive been working of late is the Ebow.
I used Ebow on 12-string Octave guitar on one track on my latest album
with Sandor Szabo, The Book Of Crossings. I will probably be
using Ebow on the upcoming sessions with Mark, too.
My next project with Daniel Roberts Stringworks is in the design phase
now; well start on it sometime next year. It is going to be
WINGFIELD: I mainly use just
one guitar for everything I do which is a Patrick Eggle LA plus. Its
a British made hand build guitar made entirely out of maple. Its
one of the original first run Eggle guitars so is quite rare. I chose
it out of a set of five LA plus guitars. I spent almost a whole day
with these five guitars before I chose this one, each of them sounded
great but each one different. I have other guitars of course but I
inevitably reach for this one whenever recording and for most live
things too. I just love the sound and feel of it.
I stopped using conventional pickups quite a while ago but instead
use a Hex pickup which gives me a separate signal for each string.
This means I can use the Roland VG systems and I also have access
to midi conversion so I can trigger synths and samples.
My main guitar sounds come from a Roland VG-88. This is not a synth
and does not involve midi. Its a guitar processor and amp simulator
which allows you to go much deeper into shaping your original guitar
signal than conventional effects do. This is made possible in part
by the separate string outputs. I can get much closer to the guitar
sounds I imagine in my mind with this level of sound shaping than
I can with conventional amps and effects.
are a couple of pieces where I play samples of recorded noises instead
of guitar sounds. This is done using a laptop with MainStage hosting
various samplers, synths and effects which I trigger by sending midi
from my guitar. To get the midi signal I use an Axon guitar to midi
converter, its the best one I've found for tracking.
There is also a piece where I feed the guitar audio signal into the
laptop to create sheets of sustaining sound. This is an effect which
allows me to play single notes into the laptop which sustain to form
a chord, which Kevin and I can then play over. I particularly like
this technique and plan to use it more in the future.
software I use a wide range of plugins all hosted in MainStage. I
like MainStage because its so flexible, you can completely design
your setup, link pedals, mixers or on-screen controls to any parameter
in any plugin. This gives you amazing control over designing your
processing. You can completely invent your own functionality and interface,
without having to do any programming. Also I like the way it looks,
no clutter, not pretending to be made out of aged metal or anything
like that, it looks calm, it gets out of your way visually so you
can just concentrate on the parameters which are all resizable and
colorable, for me this is important, especially on stage.
For plugins I'm using a range which vary depending on what I'm doing.
I use Spectrasonics Omnisphere a lot. When I want to trigger a synth
I really don't look anywhere else these days. Omnisphere is an example,
in my opinion, of software which has gone well beyond where any hardware
can go. The complexity and organic richness of this synth are simply
beyond the ability of any hardware I've ever heard. There's really
no point in trying to take hardware synths to this level, they can't
compete with the capabilities, or sound quality of software at this
stage. I think its likely everything will go this way, and in many
ways I hope it does.
I love being free from the tyranny of having to cart around amps and
having to make due with what's available to rent in a particular city
on tour when you can't bring your amp, let alone the flight cases
I used to truck around. But the worst thing about all of that for
me was that it was so inflexible sound-wise. You'd truck around huge
flight cases, full of racks of gear and amps and out of all that you'd
get two or three good sounds. Those sounds were never what I was after,
I felt like I was playing sounds which weren't what I was hearing
in my head, simply because that's all this technology could manage.
Even with the "modern" rack gear, the basic sounds hadn't
essentially changed since the 1960 and 70's, it was pretty hard to
get a sound which wasn't essentially based on all that.
And I kept saying to myself, I hear all these other sounds in my head,
its the 21st century, why am I using gear that's only capable of producing
slightly newer versions of sounds from 30 years ago? Which is why
when I came across the Roland VG, I realized that this was the first
time I'd seen guitar sound technology which was actually making use
of advances of the last 30 years. Now of course there are others,
but so far none I've seen are as flexible as the Roland. Software
on a laptop is simply another example of this move into the 21st century
and I suspect it will continue to move in that direction.
Having said that I still have a lot of hardware on stage. As far as
actual processing, I only have the VG-88 (sometimes two of them) and
the laptop. But I have an array of controllers, up to five continuous
controller foot pedals, a Korg Nano Kontrol which is like a mini mixing
desk where each knob sends out a controller message. I also use an
iPad to control Omnisphere, the multi touch screen is fantastic for
fluid controller movements. All this depends on what I'm doing of
course, sometimes the set up is very simple with just a couple of
pedals other times I'll have the full range.
mwe3: While working out the tracks An Illustrated Silence,
how much improvising was there and how much of the music was sort
of worked out in the studio? Do you have any favorite tracks from
this album as well as I walked into the silver darkness?
KASTNING: All the pieces on
An Illustrated Silence were improvised, or more accurately,
composed in real time, in the studio. Going into the sessions,
nothing was planned; nor was any of the pieces on the album
composed or sketched out ahead of time. Our usual approach is to discuss
the piece were about to record just prior to rolling tape. The
discussion might include such compositional elements as meter, overall
compositional form and shape, duration, tempo, unison or solo introductions,
register and register limitations, tunings in my case, possible guitar
voices in Marks case, and instrument selection and combinations.
Or maybe none of those, and one of us would just begin playing a piece
with no prior discussion or revelation to the other as to what was
about to happen. Nothing was rehearsed; after a brief discussion,
wed roll tape, and the resultant first-take performance is what
you hear on the record.
As for favorite tracks, I dont think I have any!
WINGFIELD: It was entirely
improvised. We had absolutely nothing planned or written down for
any of the tracks on the album. Sometimes we might decide on a tempo,
or who was going to start the piece and sometimes a few other options,
like which instruments or patches would be used. But no music was
written down or pre planned, all the actual musical ideas were crated
as we played the pieces. The concept for this album and the previous
one is to compose in real time.
This means reacting to each moment in the piece as it arises and to
each thing the other person plays. Listening to what they do, hearing
what should come next and then playing that. So Kevin will play something,
I will play what I feel should fit with that and visa versa. Then
one or both of us plays what we feel should come next musically, and
the other joins in or adds another dimension and visa versa. All the
while we both have in mind that we are creating an overall compositional
structure both harmonically and thematically. It takes a lot of concentration,
but artistically, for me, its one of the most satisfying forms
mwe3: Can you both tell us about the events youll be doing
in the NYC area and other future plans involving this CD and other
musical activities coming into 2013?
KASTNING: On November 5, Mark
and I will be doing a live on-air performance at WFMU-FM radio in
New York City. Because of the hurricane we will reschedule concert
at Drom in New York City. Then it is back to Massachusetts to Studio
Traumwald, where well be recording our next album. This album
will be released on Greydisc in 2013.
I suspect this new album will be a further extension of the direction
weve established; no doubt it will be deeper both in content
and scope. Im bringing in some additional instruments for the
sessions in addition to utilizing both Contras. I suspect Mark will
bring in new samples and patches. As we work together more and more
each year, I think there is an artistic bond that gets strengthened,
and thats reflected in the music.
One of the big changes for me on the upcoming recording sessions with
Mark will be the fact that on the previous two albums, my main instrument
was the 14-string Contraguitar in octave tuning. Now my main instruments
are the 16-string Contraguitar in intervallic tunings, and the 17-string
Contraguitar in octave tunings. I also plan on using the 12-string
Octave guitar, classical guitar, and perhaps some fretless guitar
on the upcoming sessions with Mark.
For 2013, I already have four album releases confirmed. First up is
a duo record with Belgian lutenist Gilbert Isbin. Gilbert is really
an interesting artist in that he plays 8-course lute, but utilizing
it in very 20th and 21st century harmonic approaches. This will be
followed by a new record with woodwind artist Carl Clements which
was recorded this year; this will be our second album together. There
is a new trio album being released in 2013 with Sandor Szabo, Balazs
Major, and myself; this is the same trio as the 2010 album Triptych,
and was recorded on the 2012 European tour. I also have a new duo
album with Sandor in the can; that may be released in 2013, too. And
of course the new one with Mark that were recording next week.
2013 is staring to fill up with recording dates, too. I have upcoming
recording dates with cellist David Darling; not sure when that will
be released, but hopefully in 2013. Early in 2013 I am recording a
duo album with flautist R. Carlos Nakai; I am really looking forward
to that. And a couple of rather major duo albums that I cant
yet discuss, but will be announcing on my website soon. My musical
partner Sandor Szabo will be here in the US in early 2013; well
be recording a new album with pieces exclusively for multi-string
guitars, and I may be again playing piano on a couple of those pieces.
Bass wizard Michael Manring and I have agreed to record another album;
that should be in 2013. Work has started on my solo album; Ill
be delving into that much more deeply in 2013, now that I have the
16- and 17-string Contraguitars.
I have a few more live on-air radio performances; one in December
and then a couple more so far in 2013.
And as of now, there appears to be two European tours shaping up for
me in 2013. Its going to be a busy year!
WINGFIELD: We're just about
to do a couple of things in NYC, including a live radio performance
on WFMU. After this we head for Studio Traumwald for another recording
before An Illustrated Silence I released a full band album
with Rene von Grunig, Iain Ballamy, Yaron Stavi and Andi Motz called
Cinema Obscura which is quite very different from what I'm
doing with Kevin. For one thing there's a five piece band playing.
But also because each of the songs is very composed. There are lots
of improvised parts within the pieces and lots of improvised solos
from everyone, but the pieces themselves are very composed, including
the sounds and production. The concept was to create a cinematic musical
I have three albums planned for 2013. A new album with Kevin which
we'll be recording in November. A trio album with drummer Asaf Sirkis
and bassist Yaron Stavi and an album with Jane Chapman. Its a busy
year for me in terms of composing as well. I had two new pieces premiered
in London this summer and a lot of composing work scheduled for 2013.
Thanks to Kevin Kastning @ www.KevinKastning.com
and Mark Wingfield @ www.MarkWingfield.com