to by guitar enthusiasts as fretboard explorers and sonic experimentalists,
Kevin Kastning and Sándor Szabó return
in 2016 with Perspectives. In the years between
their 2013 CD, Becoming, Kevin Kastning has broken immense
ground in the guitar world in part thanks to his implementation of
the 30 string Contra-Alto guitar and his 36 string Double Contra guitar.
Coupled with Szabós performance on his 16 string guitar,
between the two, the sound of 52 guitar stings resonating at the same
time is par for the course. This vast array of guitar strings played
on futuristic guitars is made all the more signficant in light of
the mesmerizing improvisations caught live during the Perspectives
recording sessions in late 2015. Speaking about once again recording
with the Hungary-based Szabó, Kastning tells mwe3.com, Sándor
was able to come to the US in October 2015, and we spent several days
in the studio. Perspectives is the first album release from those
sessions, with more to come in the near future. A critically
acclaimed guitarist and composer and an expert mastering engineerwho
works on various Greydisc recording projects a half a world awaySándor
was eager to once again record with Kastning in New England and
specifically on this first project featuring his 16 string guitars
paired with Kastnings 30 and 36 string guitars. Sándor
explains, When I first heard Kevins 30-string carbon
guitar I knew we entered to a new era in the history of the acoustic
guitar. Kevins guitars are perfect instruments and they are
an acoustically perfect fit to my wooden guitars. Of course we were
very curious how our guitars sound together and bit by bit we managed
to create a really never-before-heard soundscape which will be the
standard for us in the years to come. We both use strange tunings
and multiple strings because this is the only way to extend the musical
potential of the guitar. So we were at the threshold of a new world
and we just jumped into the unknown. Featuring nine tracks
that clock in at 54 minutes, Perspectives is the most illuminating
album yet from these two groundbreaking guitar figures. Much like
the CD cover art for Perspectives, featuring two windows, Perspectives
is the product of two guitarists who, while maybe looking out
/ in different windows, see the same views and arrive at a sonically
similar vantage point. A true study in fretboard logic, combining
the ancient and the futuristic, on Perspectives, Kevin Kastning
& Sándor Szabó take the guitar boldly to where no
player has gone before. www.KevinKastning.com
mwe3.com presents an interview with
Kevin Kastning & Sándor Szabó
The Perspectives Interview
Perspectives was recorded at the end of October 2015. Why did
it take so long to come out on CD? I was thinking that there have
been so many amazing albums coming out on Greydisc in the past few
years, so I guess the scheduling precluded an earlier release. How
does Perspectives showcase your latest collaborative ideas?
Kevin Kastning: Prior to the recording sessions in October
2015, we last recorded together on a day off during the 2012 European
Tour. That recording session became the album The Book of Crossings,
which was released in 2012. We began discussing our next recording
project almost immediately after we finished the 2012 sessions. However,
living in different countries makes it difficult to schedule studio
time together. Sándor was able to come to the US in October
2015, and we spent several days in the studio. Perspectives
is the first album release from those sessions, with more to come
in the near future. It was almost a year since the recording dates
to the release date because there was literally several hours of recorded
material through which to sift. When you have that much material,
selecting pieces for the album can be a slow process.
Sándor Szabó: Well, on the other hand we did
not want to release so many similar recordings on CD soon after each
other. The other reason is that there was a developing and changing
process in both of our artistic lives and we wanted to wait for a
moment when we can play the essence of this developing period. From
my part the Perspectives album really showcases what I imagined
and maybe even more.
mwe3: Because you both live in different countries describe
how you prepared for the Perspectives album before Sándor
came to the US. For example Kevin says that you worked together on
different tunings, were these tunings presented by new challenges
combining the 16 string guitars with the 36 string guitars? And Sándor
was also discussing other challenges of recording with Kevins
extended range carbon-fiber guitars. Sándor even talked about
calling the album The 52 String Project! How has the carbon fiber
guitar changed the sound of your shared guitar soundstage? What was
Sándor s initial reaction to seeing and hearing the 36
string guitar in person and has he played it himself?
Kevin Kastning: Yes, The 52-string Project was
our working title for this project for a couple of years. As I devised
new tunings for my instruments, specifically the 30-string Contra-Alto
guitar and the 36-string Double Contraguitar, I would email the tunings
to Sándor. As he created new tunings, he would email those
to me. He would sometimes create his own tunings to blend with or
to contrast against my tunings. Prior to rolling tape, we decided
on which tunings wed be utilizing for these recording sessions.
That served to establish a kind of harmonic environment in which to
work. It also set the tone for some of the pieces.
In our 2012 sessions, my main instrument was the 12-string baritone
guitar. Now my main instrument has 36 strings, and a range more than
double that of the baritone. All the instruments I used on this record
were new to us as a duo; these instruments didnt exist when
we last were in the studio together in 2012. So yes, thats a
rather massive impact on our sound. The 30- and 36-string instruments
are true stereo instruments: both have dual soundholes, which is very
rare for non-archtop guitar-family instruments. Plus they are miced
with two stereo pairs of microphones in the studio. The soundstage
of these instruments is vast.
Sándors reaction to seeing the 30- and 36-string for
the first time was one of surprise. He had mixed my two solo albums,
on which I used both of those instruments (and others), so he was
intimately familiar with their sound. Our first day in the studio
with those instruments, he made a comment to the effect of I
had no idea how you were getting those sounds out of these instruments;
now that I see it, it is incredible to me. They really require
a whole new technique, and seeing this is very different than trying
to describe it.
Szabó: Many years ago I was quite skeptical about the carbon-fiber
guitars, because nobody could make a decent instrument. By now this
has changed. When I first heard Kevins 30-string carbon guitar
I knew we entered to a new era in the history of the acoustic guitar.
Kevins guitars are perfect instruments and they are an acoustically
perfect fit to my wooden guitars. Of course we were very curious how
our guitars sound together and bit by bit we managed to create a really
never-before-heard soundscape which will be the standard for us in
the years to come. We both use strange tunings and multiple strings
because this is the only way to extend the musical potential of the
guitar. So we were at the threshold of a new world and we just jumped
into the unknown.
When we started to think about a new album I had a thought that we
have 52 strings all together and what we can do with these string
monsters. We both were curious how we can use this potential in the
music. I had also a goal to create something which never happened
before on the guitar. It is known that the modern contemporary acoustic
guitar music is at least 100 years behind; for example, the piano
music. And now I speak about not entertaining guitar music. This is
due to the instrument which made the players lazy and now I do not
see that the guitar music would develop on the standard 6-string classical
guitar and with the standard principles anymore. On the other hand,
I also see that the classical guitar became a sporting contest similar
as figure skating, which is not a good cradle for the new music on
The jazz guitar playing also stiffened, there are no big innovators
and explorers anymore, which would show a long term direction toward
the acoustic guitar music. This is partly because the guitar players
are satisfied with the convenient 6 strings; they are not curious
enough to jump into the unknown and finally they mostly want to learn
a skill to earn some money with entertaining as a working musician.
This is like a prison. So these thoughts impacted my mental preparation
for the Perspectives. My technical preparation was a couple
of new tunings and a whole new string setup which cannot be seen on
any other guitar anywhere.
mwe3: Has Sándor worked on most of the Greydisc albums
as far as mastering goes and else can he say what albums or music
he has been working on in Hungary these past few years? Whats
new in Hungary? We know theres some great musicians there but
we dont get to hear too many!
Kevin Kastning: Sándor has mixed and mastered all the
Greydisc records since 2007, except for the records Ive done
with Mark Wingfield. As you can hear, he does beautiful work!
Szabó: Hungary is a place for great talents and new innovative
things in all fields, however it is very difficult to achieve things
especially in the contemporary music. Contemporary music is a very
small periphery and inside that the guitar culture is even smaller
worldwide. Hungary is small and is not about the guitar. If you see
a Hungarian play guitar in Hungary it is mainly kind of imitation
of a popular big name. We cannot really speak about contemporary guitar
music in the sense of quality and musical depth in Hungary. This circumstance
made me stay out of that small and closed circle from the beginning
of my career so I tried to extend my music activity internationally.
Naturally I work a lot in Hungary and I release solo and duo albums
here but my music activity is international.
mwe3: What were your main musical directions and destinations
on Perspectives. Are the tracks listed on the CD booklet as
you recorded them or were the tracks ordered in a specific lineup?
Also can you tell us about how you chose the song titles on Perspectives?
I know Exordium is Latin for the beginning. Are all
the track titles in Latin?
Kevin Kastning: The tracks are in a particular sequence on
the record, but thats not the sequence in which they were recorded.
All the titles are in Latin except for Sixth Pleochroism.
The Pleochroism series started back on Resonance, our
first album together in 2007. Weve added one Pleochroism
piece on each album. I selected the titles based on what the composition
said to me, how it felt, the structure. The titles, like the compositions,
are all interrelated. I sometimes like to obfuscate meanings and descriptions,
so I translated all the titles into Latin.
Sándor Szabó: I wanted to showcase my present
approach in the new album because it is continuously changing. In
the last years I started to arrange the notes in other ways in my
music. The music is rooted in time. We can sense this sounding dimension
of the reality by our time sense. Decades ago when I was more deeply
in the so-called modern jazz, my music was based quite a lot on chords.
The chords do not contain the time dimension, because the notes in
the chord all sound at the same time. Playing chord notes in a linear
way makes a big difference, the time appears between the notes, so
this is why I use less vertical and more horizontal extensions of
Music history shows clearly that the chord is only a consequence of
the polytonality. Since I also play oriental music where the notes
are arranged horizontally in time, I went back to the ancient music
paradigm, to build music horizontally where the time is always present.
Actually, I manipulate the time and the time sense of the listener.
This approach completely changed my playing and my music in the last
6-8 years. This can be heard on the Perspectives. As for the
titles, I do not consider too big significance to them only to identify
the piece. Kevin has a good talent to give nice titles, so I just
trust him to create them.
All the music is cut live on Perspectives, right? Was there
any overdubbing or post-recording editing? During the process, did
you ever feel the need to fix a note or a section that might need
some tweaking? What was involved in the recording this time? You record
to hard disk and then Sándor works his magic in Hungary? What
is the latest news from Sándor when it comes to new mastering
and mixing techniques and were there any changes from the Becoming
session as far as capturing a better or even more dynamic sound
Kevin Kastning: Yes, everything was tracked live in the studio
with no overdubs, just as you hear it on the record. Then Sándor
takes the masters on a hard drive back to his studio in Hungary for
mixing and mastering. There is always editing in post-production;
you can think of this process as proofreading something youve
written. That said, the editing process is very slight; usually just
removing one or two notes in a piece. There are some pieces that didnt
require editing at all, so it doesnt always happen on each piece.
I asked Sándor to remove a note of mine here and there, and
in a couple of places, asked him to remove several seconds of my parts.
On one of the pieces, I asked him to remove about 40 seconds in my
part. If something Ive played doesnt add to the overall
composition, or worse yet, detracts from it, Ill ask Sándor
to remove it. My goal is to make the compositions as strong as possible;
not to make sure that everything I played makes it onto the record.
Sometimes the best thing I can play for the piece is nothing.
Sándor Szabó: We never use overdubbing but we
use some editing to replace some incorrectly played notes, but this
is all. The intuition is an essential channel when we record. We become
one soul and we feel what to play. We never think during playing what
and how to play. This is a deep psychological but maybe much rather
a spiritual process. The music is not outside, the music is always
inside and we have to follow the path which brings out the musical
content. This is the reason why we always record live as if it were
I used to spend a lot of times to learn how to place the microphones
on the right spot to avoid using EQ. Since the Becoming album,
I upgraded my ProTools system and I developed out some new tricks
with my Bricasti and Quantec reverbs to make the recording more three-dimensional
and detailed. I also have a very strict and clear concept for recording,
mixing, and mastering.
mwe3: Can you tell us what guitars are featured on what tracks?
For example on the lead off track, Exordium what guitars
were used and how do you pan the guitars in the audio (stereo: left
/ right) soundstage? I know Kevin plays the 36, the 30 and 15 string
guitars and Sándor plays two 16 string guitars so thats
a lot of strings to keep track of.
Kevin Kastning: I have a stereo pair of mics on my instruments;
one mic per soundhole. When you hear the 30 and 36 in person, you
hear a definite stereo instrument; its rather remarkable. So
I try to capture that with the mics. I also have an internal stereo
pickup system (by K&K Sound) which I use for concerts, but it
sounds so accurate and pure that I also use it in the studio, mixed
in with the microphones. There is a separate, discrete pickup system
on each bridge, so the 30 and 36 again have a stereo pickup output.
The 15-string only has a single bridge, but its pickup system is also
The soundstage panning is that my mics and the pickup channels are
equally panned hard left and right. As I change necks on the 30 and
36, you can tell by the soundstage on which neck Im playing
if you listen closely. Sándors instruments are placed
more in the center of the soundstage. So for Perspectives,
not only am I using new (for our duo) instruments, but the soundstage
on the record is also entirely different than anything weve
previously done together.
The instruments I used on each track are:
1 Exordium: 36-string Double Contraguitar
2 Fenestram Lumen: 36-string Double Contraguitar
3 Geminus: 36-string Double Contraguitar
4 Albus et Albus: 15-string Extended Classical guitar
5 Conspicuum: 36-string Double Contraguitar
6 Poesis: 30-string Contra-Alto guitar
7 Sixth Pleochroism: 30-string Contra-Alto guitar
8 Vitrum Hyalus: 15-string Extended Classical guitar
9 Altum Valeo: 36-string Double Contraguitar
So you can see that the 36-string Double Contraguitar is home for
me. There is more information about each instrument at my website:
Szabó: The mix and the panning method are a little unusual
on Perspectives. Kevins guitar needs 6 channels to capture
what he wants to hear from the instrument without EQ. As I used much
early reflections on his reverb path, so his guitar appears like a
big wall in the space, like a background to create a perfect canvas
for my guitar. As I always record my guitars in stereo I always use
hard L/R panning but the real panning happens when I sit down with
my guitar, I just place the instrument slightly to left or right of
the microphones to create a natural panning. On Perspectives
as Kevin said, I was panned to the center. I did not use Early Reflections
on my reverb path; this is why my guitar sounds a little closer to
the listener. This is an unusual approach but sounds beautiful and
your ears can separate the notes well when both guitars play. And
again the time: the phenomenon of the reverb is based on time, and
I utilize this possibility for the artistic expression in the soundscape.
When I travel I can take only one instrument. The guitar I used on
Perspectives was my 16-string guitar made by Tihamer Romanek.
This guitar is more than 26 years old now- It was rebuilt twice and
now it is in her final stage. On the recording session I also used
one of Kevins guitars, a contra 16-string acoustic guitar made
by Daniel Roberts. A phenomenal instrument and my microphone placement
worked perfectly with that guitar, too.
mwe3: With all the new guitars since you both recorded Becoming,
was it more challenging to capture and fit the music on disc this
time? Would you say Perspectives is clearly a major step forward
in your recorded repertoire?
Kevin Kastning: No, it wasnt more challenging. Our recording
process goes really smoothly. For me, Perspectives is certainly
our best work to date. And you are correct, it is a step forward in
that my new instruments and our new tunings have brought us to a new
place to which weve never had access.
Sándor Szabó: We work very smoothly. To develop
the method of capturing Kevins guitar took a while for him and
also for me to find the perfect balance between his six channels and
my two channels. I think the Perspectives album is a major
step forward where the conception of the music and the recordings
were more conscious than ever before.
mwe3: Which Perspectives tracks were the most complicated
to play and to capture on disc? Were there some tracks that needed
extra attention either during the creating / recording stage and also
in the post-production stages?
Kastning: No, everything flowed really easily and organically.
There werent any pieces that seemed more difficult than others.
Everything you hear on the record were all first takes in the studio.
Sándor Szabó: I do not remember that any tracks
were more complicated to play or record than others. The playing is
unconscious and we are in the timelessness, we never feel it as difficult.
Playing is not working when we execute a task. That is pure creation
with the transcendent joy. When I mixed and mastered the tracks I
always use the same session to keep the sound in the same setting.
It occurs that we play some dirty notes or make unintentional noises
in a track. Removing or replacing them demands sometimes more time
than anything else including the recording.
mwe3: How about the CD cover art for the Perspectives CD?
Did you purposely pick it because of the two windows, sort of a shared
yet individual look out into the world? And does the fact that the
album was recorded in late October have any bearing on the sound or
moods on the CD? I know Kevin is a fall / winter kind of person.
Kevin Kastning: Yes, your observations are correct. The cover
art is by a very talented Hungarian photographer named László
Hutton. Ive been a fan of his work for years; in fact, I was
fortunate enough to meet László in person after one
of the concerts on the 2012 tour and we had dinner together. Sándor
has used Lászlós work as the cover art on several
of his records, and I knew that someday one of our projects would
be right for Lászlós work.
I saw this photo a few years ago and I thought of it when it came
time for this record. The shape of the windows, the textures of the
paint, the composition; everything about that photo felt right for
this album. The two windows could be seen as representing Sándor
and I, and certainly the album title ties in with the cover art as
well. The album title also captures what Sándor and I believe
to be our new perspectives in our harmonic structures and forward
development and expansion since our last album.
We were in the studio in late October, and the weather was getting
chilly. The leaves were past peak and most of them were off the trees
and had accumulated on the hiking trails. So it was a nice and crunchy
hike with every step. Our daily routine after getting up was tea and
breakfast, then a hike. On the hikes we would discuss what we wanted
to do in the studio that day and other musical topics of conversation.
After being out in nature for a couple of hours, then heading into
the studio, I believe that some of the nature comes into the studio
with you, so yes Id say this record was influenced by, and possibly
even its direction was somewhat determined by the season in which
we recorded it.
Sándor Szabó: As always I leave the design and
art works to Kevin. He has an excellent taste to choose photos or
picture for the music. By this time we got to a point when we can
see around from a high mount how the world looks like. To express
this situation the two windows are just perfect. The windows tell
so much what can be behind them which is still a reflection of what
is in front of them but always the unknown is behind the windows.
My friend the great photographer László Hutton took
this wondrous picture somewhere in Transylvania.
Did you ever consider doing an album with overdubs which would make
it 104 strings? Do you pride yourself on, not only the music, but
also on your improvisational ESP guitar skills and the ability to
capture all your music on disc the way you intended?
Kevin Kastning: Weve never discussed doing any overdubs.
But youre right, that would be a tremendous amount of strings
on tape. I think Sándor and I do have something akin to ESP
when we play together. There are times wherein Ill hear something
in the post-production phase that I dont remember recording
and be very surprised at it; wondering how we ever could have done
something like that.
Sándor Szabó: Overdubbing would be the last case
when we would never meet again in a live studio session anymore. The
overdubbing is a kind of industrial thing to me and I try to avoid
it as much as possible. The presence of each other is the engine of
our musical working, so we wait until we can record live in the studio.
For an average listener probably the 104 string sounds as a world
record, or a promising experiment but the number of strings as a number
means nothing to me. It is possible to make very touching music on
only one string and as for me I do not consider myself as an experimental
musician on so many strings. The music is readily waiting for to come
out deep inside my soul. The music is a communication and I try to
preserve this attitude in the playing.
mwe3: So now with Perspectives out alongside your earlier
duo albums and the trio album with Balazs Major, did you consider
where youd like to go next with your sound? I had mentioned
to Kevin about a DVD or even a documentary to detail the sonic complexity
of all youve achieved? Are there clear directions towards your
shared sonic futures?
Kevin Kastning: I hope to record with Balázs again within
the next couple of years. I must say that Balázs is not merely
a drummer or a percussionist, though those are his instruments. Balázs
is a true artist. I think with my expanded instruments that working
with Balázs would take us into a whole other direction. Again,
the problem here is living in different countries. At the end of the
2012 tour, Balázs told me that I couldnt go back to the
US; that I had to stay there!
Sándor and I are already planning our next recording project,
which will be Sándor not on guitars, but on lutes. Ill
be on my usual instruments. The combination of lute and 36-string
Double Contraguitar will push us into an entirely new place.
Weve not discussed a DVD; that would be a massive undertaking.
A few people have mentioned this to me. So who knows
something that could end up on YouTube at some point.
Sándor Szabó: When Kevin toured in Hungary it
was easy and obvious to invite the very special percussion player
Balázs Major on the recording session. However it would be
very costly to travel overseas with two persons and instruments. My
trip to the States was possible by the support of one of my friends
László Boros and we can really thank this album partly
to him. Of course we keep in mind that we can enrich our sonic complexity
by such a player as Balázs, however unfortunately this became
an economical question.
I am not a big fan of DVD and other video types. A video can show
nothing of the moment in how and when we play. Not to mention the
bad sound quality. The video is for consuming music for the masses.
The visual perception sets the brain to another mode. After watching
a video we always remember first what we saw and not what we heard.
Our playing is not a great visual action. We do not dance, we do not
move, visually nothing happens when we play. So it is not wise to
enter a competition where we have no chance to win. I believe in the
live concert and listening to music in proper conditions.
mwe3: What about your individual plans for the rest of 2016
into 2017 as far as new music and possible concert appearances? And
can Kevin tell us something about plans on Greydisc as it relates
to new releases and other guitar news regarding possible new gear
as it relates to the extended range guitar instruments?
Kevin Kastning: For performances, Markus Reuter (Stick Men,
King Crimson ProjeKCt) has asked me to do a couple of US concerts
with him later this year. And there could be some recording together;
not yet sure. Were still discussing. Carl Clements and I start
recording our next album in October. Mark Wingfield and I have our
next record currently in post-production; that will be released in
fall 2016. Mark emailed me just this morning about some 2017 US/UK
concert dates and our next recording dates. Ive started work
on the next two solo albums; theyll be rather different than
the first two. And of course Sándor and I are discussing the
hows and whens of the lute duo recording project.
Im at work with Emerald Guitars in Ireland on the next two KK
series instruments. Work on the first next one is slated to begin
in early 2017. I wont have it in time for the next solo album,
but timing on new instruments is never a predictable thing, so well
Sándor Szabó: My individual plan as a solo artist
and composer is to go on with the project of a new 21st Century lute
album I started in the beginning of 2016. I would like to include
Kevin to this project in another duo album. Try to imagine how the
lute sounds together with Kevins hypermodern instruments in
our 21st century music. As for concert appearances we are continuously
thinking on possibilities to play and record in Europe and in the
States, but without sponsorship it seems difficult. The music in the
world became a whole industry. The dictators of this industry created
and set up the economical, artistic parameters of the music to make
it a consumer product for the masses. In these circumstances the art
is an underground phenomenon, and it is so much the more the valuable
for those of us who truly hear it.