most prolific maestro of the multi-string carbon guitar, Kevin
Kastning returns in early 2018 with his fourth solo album. Entitled
17/66 the single disc, nine track CD is no doubt inspired
by Kevins use of his 36-string Double Contraguitar, his 30-string
Contra-Alto guitar and the latest addition, his 17-string Hybrid Extended
Classical guitar. Speaking about connection between the album title
and his performance on the 17, 30 and 36 string guitars, Kevin tells
mwe3.com, "Yes, that is the intent behind the album title.
For this record, I wanted a title that was numbers instead of words.
For this record, I wanted to take that concept to a bit more abstract
place; hence a title of numbers instead of words. This is the world
premiere recording of the 17-string, so that certainly figured into
the album title. For the 30-string Contra-Alto guitar and the 36-string
Double Contraguitar, I think of them as one large 66-string instrument;
its hard for me to locate or define mental or artistic boundaries
for them, and in my mind I think of them as the 66." Kastning
fans will be in guitar heaven with 17/66 as the music centers
on a compositional approach that Kevin calls, 'harmonic blocks'. Interesting
that in his liner notes, Kevin cites the Wotruba Cathedral in Vienna
Austria as being a visual representation of the harmonic blocks
concept. With its dense, protruding geometrical angles and jutting
points of construction, Wotruba and the music on 17/66 enjoy
a similar type of shared identity. Long time Kastning fans who still
marvel at his ongoing creating of these 21st century, multi-string
carbon fiber guitars will sit up and take notice of Kevin's recently
acquired 17-string Hybrid Extended classical guitar that debuts on
17/66. Although his 15-String Extended classical guitar is
replaced here with the 17-string and, while theres no inclusion
of Kevins performance on the Kawaii grand piano, 17/66 is
a still an enjoyable follow up album to his 2017 solo album A Connection
Of Secrets. www.kevinkastning.com
mwe3.com presents a new interview with
The title of the new album 17/66 no doubt alludes to the use
of the new 17-string Hybrid Extended Classical guitar and the combined
use of the 30 and 36 string guitars that youve recorded with
on earlier albums. Did you clearly want to highlight that fact in
the title and what can you say about the breakdown of tracks that
fall into three subdivisions including 1230z, ML-G/137
and CotHT. Can you shed some more light on these titles
Kevin Kastning: Yes, that is the intent behind the album title.
For this record, I wanted a title that was numbers instead of words.
My previous records have had titles that were full of meaning, albeit
hidden meanings, or meanings only known to me. I never want to reveal
anything of what a record is about or its genesis so as to enable
each listener to find their own meanings in it. For this record, I
wanted to take that concept to a bit more abstract place; hence a
title of numbers instead of words. That titling convention extends
to the compositions on the record as well.
This is the world premiere recording of the 17-string, so that certainly
figured into the album title. For the 30-string Contra-Alto guitar
and the 36-string Double Contraguitar, I think of them as one large
66-string instrument; its hard for me to locate or define mental
or artistic boundaries for them, and in my mind I think of them as
the 66. For example, there are four tunings in use across the 66,
but none of them are the same. I ensure that each tuning is not only
different, but that each tuning provides contrast to every other tuning.
I also think of the four tunings at times like one large tuning, which
again points to the overarching concept of a single 66-string instrument.
mwe3: What else can you tell us about the compositional structure
of the three pieces each within the three movements concept? For example,
how did you arrive with that comprehensive compositional idea?
Kevin Kastning: It was a compositional structure and concept
on which I'd been working for at least two years. I had envisioned
a solo project consisting of three large compositions; each consisting
of three movements; hence, nine movements in total. Even though there
are three large-scale compositions on the record, they are all connected.
So in some ways, you could think of 17/66 as being one very
large-scale composition across nine movements. For 17/66, each
one of the three large compositions is performed on one instrument.
mwe3: What did you have as a goal when you designed the 17-String
Hybrid Extended classical guitar and what kind of strings do you use
on the instrument? How would you compare it to your usual classical
guitar, which Im guessing you havent played in quite a
Kevin Kastning: My classical guitar is a 6-string, as are most
classicals. It is a wonderful instrument; I am really happy with it.
Its a 2008 Cervantes Rodriguez. Very balanced. But Im
not playing single-course instruments any longer. And a 6-string instrument
in the setting of my music makes me feel straightjacketed. So as regards
the classical 6-string, even though I love its voice, was seeing less
and less use. I dont think Ive used it on a record in
a few years. But I still loved that voice. I am also a huge fan of
lute and lute repertoire, literature, and recordings, but I have no
interest in actually playing lute. So that was part of the reasoning
behind the 15-string Extended Classical guitar: a double-course nylon-string
instrument akin to a lute, but still in the guitar family. And with
the extended ranges and double-courses, it would allow me to use it
in my music, unlike the 6-string classical.
For the 17-string, a hybrid nylon/steel instrument is something Id
had in the back of my mind for many years. Id experimented with
this concept on a couple of 12-string guitars, but it just didnt
work. The softer, lower-volume nylon strings were lost among the louder
steel strings, and nylon strings cannot drive the steel-string instruments.
Nylon strings on a steel-string instrument just make a soft thud.
Putting steel strings on a classical guitar would literally destroy
it, as they are braced and built far too lightly to withstand the
massive pull of steel strings. So it seemed there was no solution
Years ago, Id spoken to a couple of luthier friends about building
one. But of course we were back to the same issues as I just described.
I had long accepted that this hybrid nylon and steel instrument just
could not exist; it could never happen. Then, after the arrival of
the 15-string Extended Classical and the miraculous resonant properties
of carbon fiber, I again started thinking about this steel/nylon hybrid.
I did some preliminary tests on a couple of courses on the 15, and
it was very promising, very exciting. In late 2015, I spoke with Alistair
Hay at Emerald Guitars in Ireland, the luthier that built my 30, 36,
and 15-string instruments, about the possibility of a steel/nylon
hybrid classical. We discussed the tests I had done with the 15, and
he also believed that this instrument should work. It was a long design
process, even though he used the same body as my 15-string. There
was so much that had to be redesigned: the bridge, the bridge saddle,
the wider fingerboard and nut width; the string spacing took a very
long time to be calculated, and the headstock was longer. I believe
he also altered the design of the top. The multiscale concept was
again used; in fact, the 17 and the 15 have the same fanfret specifications.
I wanted to add octave strings to the low E and low B courses, so
those are the two extra strings on the 17 over the 15.
How is the 17-String Extended Classical guitar different from the
15-string Extended Classical guitar in both sound and function and
can you tell us about the different tunings you use on the 17-string?
Kevin Kastning: They are similar in some ways regarding body
specifications and scale length and the multiscale specifications.
The main difference lies in the strings: the 15-string has all nylon
strings, and all courses are unisons. The neck on the 17 is wider
than the 15. The 17-string has octave strings instead of unisons,
and the strings are a hybrid mix of both nylon and steel. For example,
the D course on the 15-string is two unison nylon D strings. The D
course on the 17-string consists of a nylon D string and a steel octave
D string. To my knowledge, this nylon/steel hybrid scenario has never
been done prior to this instrument. It sounds like nothing else. I
am really happy with how it turned out; so much so that I had to include
it on this record. Originally, the title was to be 15/66,
but when I heard the 17, I knew it would better fit the overall compositional
esthetic and direction of this record. All three movements of the
2nd composition on the new album, "ML-G/137," are performed
using the 17-string. The 17-string is tuned in unisons and octaves.
Low to high, the current tuning is F#, B, E, A, D, G, B, E, A.
mwe3: Sándor Szabó is listed as album producer.
What input did Sándor have a producer on 17/66 and did
you and Sándor have certain guidelines when it came to the
direction and scope of 17/66 before, during and after the recordings?
Kevin Kastning: Thats a great question. I had the album
almost completely recorded when I started to explain the album concept
to Sándor. So he didnt have input on the overall concept,
as the concept was already fully realized. I always have the overall
concept of the record in mind before tape ever rolls in the studio.
Besides his role as producer, he also mixed and mastered the record.
Sándor is a brilliant mix engineer, and provided mix suggestions
along the way. As a producer, he will often provide much-needed input
and opinion on specific pieces. His guidance is invaluable to me when
Im working on solo projects.
mwe3: In your liner notes of 17/66 you discuss the Wotruba
Cathedral and you compare it to the harmonic blocks concept
you had in mind. I had never seen a church with that type of jagged
yet geometric construction. How did you discover Wotruba and can you
explain how the harmonic blocks concept veers from compositional structure
into the realms of music theory? I know you are classically trained,
from a harmony standpoint but this is quite a unique sonic conceptualization.
Kevin Kastning: The harmonic blocks concept was developed four
or five years ago; it is something on which Ive been working
leading up to the recording of 17/66. To explain it very briefly:
it involves opposing or contrapuntal two-handed chordal tapping on
the 30 or 36. For example on the 36, I can tap 8-voice chords in each
hand; hence 16-voice chords are achievable. These are pretty harmonically
dense structures, and I do not hear them as, or think of their theoretical
functioning or theoretical analysis as chords. Due to their densities
and complexities, I hear them as what I call harmonic blocks.
I can use these in a contrapuntal structure and setting such that
these two sets of 8-voice chords, or sometimes 6-voice chords, are
used as and functioning as polytonal lines, instead of using single-note
monophonic lines as polytonal lines. In this manner, chords, or in
my case, harmonic blocks, become actual counterpoint itself. This
is instead of or actually replacing separate monophonically-based
linear counterpoint. This theory is on most of the album, but is more
present in the final track 15.5mH.
As I was figuring this out, I had some drawings to represent it,
along with writing out some examples on score paper. The drawings
were helpful in helping me physically and visually grasp some of these
concepts; to be able to see it instead of only hearing it.
I am a big fan of architecture; I read about it quite a bit. I had
been doing some research on Brutalist architecture. I knew nothing
about it, so I was reading about it so as to better understand it.
Im not that enthralled by Brutalism, but some of the underlying
concepts were interesting to me. This was happening about a year before
the recording dates for the 17/66 project. As I was reading
about Brutalism, I found the Wotruba Cathedral in Vienna. This cathedral
is for me the most beautiful example of Brutalist architecture. When
I found it, it just stopped me dead in my tracks, as the Wotruba was
very similar to the drawings I had of the harmonic blocks concept.
It looked like what I had been hearing for the past few years. Finding
this physical manifestation of what I was hearing and on which I was
working was not just a coincidence; I believe the timing happened
divinely. During the recording sessions, I had a few photos of the
Wotruba around the studio. It was helpful to me. The pieces on the
record are not based on or inspired by the Wotruba Cathedral, but
there is an absolute connection there.
You always find the most interesting artwork and that is clear on
17/66. Tell us about working with English artist Chris Friel
and something about the artwork / photography chosen for this album.
His web site is pretty fascinating. How did you locate Chris?
Kevin Kastning: I met Chris probably 8 or 9 years ago I think.
At that time, I was interested in the new work being created by the
Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) photographers. For me, this was
almost a new art form, and I really liked it; it seemed to contain
more emotional depth and heft than some other forms of photography;
at least to me. I liked most of the ICM works I saw, but I kept seeing
some ICM photos that really knocked me out, and every time Id
check to see who was the photographer on these, it was Chris Friel.
I sent him an email introducing myself and I shared some of my music
with him. I also asked if he thought I might be able to use one of
his works as an album cover, as his work visually fit to my work so
incredibly well; in some cases, there were some of his photos which
in my mind looked as if they were constructed from my music. Of course
Chris had not heard my music at that time, but that was the strong
visual connection I felt. Fortunately for me, Chris liked my music
and agreed to doing the album covers.
Is is a very arduous and a long process to locate the perfect cover
art. For me, the cover art must fit the album project. It has to have
a direct tie-in, connection, or representation of or with the music
on that record. When the recording sessions for the album that would
become 17/66 were completed, I knew that something of Chris
would fit this record. This record is more dense, more abstract, than
my previous solo records. Chris work has the abstraction for
sure. Plus there were new tunings used on it for the 30 and 36 with
which Id never previously recorded, and the new 17-string. So,
while this record was so dense, there were new colors buried in and
threaded throughout those densities. The new colors being the new
tunings and of course the 17-string. I had seen this photo that became
the cover art a year or so ago, and it had really stuck in my mind.
When I started to think about cover art for 17/66, I knew this
piece of Chris's was right for it. The more I looked at that photo,
the more I could start to see the pieces on 17/66 emerging
from it. The three colors in this photo representing the three main
compositions and the three instruments; the abstraction; the densities;
the movement; it was all there and fit the album ideally. Im
very grateful to Chris for the album covers hes done. He is
truly an original and unique artist, and I think his art is just tremendous.
mwe3: 17/66 was recorded during the early winter of
2018 so is that why the sound is particularly dark? Is it coincidental
that 17/66 and your prior album A Connection Of Secrets
were recorded in the depths of winter, albeit a year later?
Kevin Kastning: I think the darkness to which you refer is
inherent in the compositions. However, I do prefer recording during
winter. I don't think it was a coincidence, no. Solo projects are
large and arduous endeavors for me, and embarking on those projects
during the winter months just seems natural. The album consists of
three large compositions, each in three movements. Each large composition
was recorded in one night. So the entire album was tracked over three
nights; one in late December 2017, and two in early January 2018.
How many guitars has Emerald Guitars made for you and when did you
meet Alistair Hay? Are you planning new instruments with him or other
builders in the future?
Kevin Kastning: I met Alistair in 2011 or 2012. So far, Alistair
has made five instruments for me. At present, we have two new instruments
in design stages.
mwe3: Tell us about working with Emerald and how you went back
and forth in the making of the 17-String Classical. Was there a prototype
guitar made that you made your modifications on as it was further
developed and how long was the 17-String guitar in production?
Kastning: Overall from my proposal to the delivery of the 17-string
was probably close to two years, I think. When I propose a new instrument
to Alistair, I'll send a kind of statement of purpose for the new
instrument; what it's meant to accomplish. I also send written specifications
to him. I'll include a strings and tuning chart, along with string
gauges for each tuning. Soon after, we'll have a long Skype about
it. He'll then go away and think about it all, and determine if it
is possible and if so, what's involved. He will often make suggestions
to my first pass at the specs, which is quite helpful. Sometimes a
full-size cardboard mockup is involved in the design stage on his
end. After we've agreed on the full specifications, down to string
gauges and everything, he will start the build process. From the finalization
of the specs to the start of the build process can be several months,
as he has a wait list. During those months we are both thinking a
lot about the new project, and details can change, which is also good.
During the build process, we will have more Skype sessions, as he
may run into new challenges that were previously unforeseen with these
instruments. We'll discuss string gauges and setup factors when that
There was not an actual 17-string prototype. But the 15-string and
the 17-string share so many design specs that in a way the 15 was
the prototype or the test platform for the 17, as I did some steel-string
tests with it when I was making the first set of specifications. I
consider Alistair to be my partner on the same level as Sandor, Mark
Wingfield, Carl Clements and others. I couldn't do what I without
his support and luthiery genius. And I don't use the word 'genius'
mwe3: In the 17/66 liner notes you list other guitar
builders including Daniel Roberts Stringworks and Santa Cruz guitars.
What is your relationships like with the other guitar builders and
guitar tech companies and do you have some other favorite current
guitar builders in the US or other countries who are doing interesting
works in you opinion? Have you gotten feedback from other guitar companies
about your unique guitars?
Kevin Kastning: I have had interesting comments from other
luthiers, yes. They seem intrigued. Santa Cruz made several excellent
instruments for me; most recent was the 2006 12-string Extended Baritone
and the 2008 12-string Alto guitar. Richard Hoover (owner of Santa
Cruz Guitars) has always been very supportive and helpful to me. Daniel
Roberts Stringworks built the first two Contraguitars for me. Those
are beautiful instruments, and Dan has been really supportive.
Currently, I don't have any instruments in the works with any other
luthiers or companies other than Emerald, but I am still thankful
for the support I've been shown as an artist endorser from both Santa
Cruz and Daniel Roberts Stringworks.
Another luthier whose work I admire is Laurent Brondel (Maine; US).
He specializes in 6-string acoustic guitars. His instruments are beautifully
balanced and really have their own voice.
You were discussing future releases on Greydisc with Carl Clements,
Mark Wingfield and also Mike Metheny as well as a trio album with
Sándor and Carl as well. Sounds like 2018 and 2019 are going
to be busy years for you. Youre really keeping the critics and
the listeners in both awe and suspense. Moving ahead, one can only
hope to keep up with your prolific recording schedule.
Kevin Kastning: Yes, for the past few years I think that the
current year is the busiest and it can't get any busier going forward.
But it always does. Those album projects you mentioned are all in
the works or completed; most will be released in 2018. Other records
for this year are an album from 2002 with Siegfried which was never
released. The trio with Sandor and Carl which was recorded in 2015
will be released this year. My next solo record is already completed
and will be released in late 2018. There is a trio record with Sandor
and Balazs Major which is entirely different for us, and will be released
in summer 2018. Carl and I are at work on a new record, and Sandor
and I will be recording a new album after the 2018 European tour next
month in Budapest. Mark Wingfield and I are back in the studio in
August. And I'm at work on some more piano recording projects. So
yes, I'm staying busy and happy to be so.