Reviews and Quotes
Kevin Kastning: 17/66
"Kevin Kastning, the Massachusetts-based innovator renowned for his remarkable thirty- and thirty-six string guitars, has issued four solo albums, including 17/66, which is also, it turns out, his twenty-ninth for Greydisc Records. With a discography of such magnitude under his belt, certainly one recurring challenge for Kastning has to be figuring out what to do next, and even more pointedly figuring out what ground he might cover in a new recording that hasn't been exhaustively explored already.
Serendipity often comes into play in such cases, and Kastning is no exception. Encountering by accident the Wotruba Cathedral in Vienna led to the further crystallization of an idea about compositional structure he'd begun developing in 2014; as he studied the cathedral, he began to see its design and structure as a physical manifestation of a concept he labeled ‘harmonic blocks.' While Kastning doesn't elaborate in detail on the mechanics of the idea, one presumes it generally has to do with conceiving the music in logically structured terms and assembling it with the kind of rigour and precision that's involved in the building of architectural structures. For this hour-long release, Kastning recorded the three tripartite pieces live in the studio with no overdubs and used a different guitar for each: the thirty-string Contra-Alto guitar for “1230z”; the seventeen-string Hybrid Extended Classical guitar for “ML/G-137”; and the thirty-six-string Double Contraguitar for “CotHT.”
Truth be told, 17/66 doesn't sound radically dissimilar from Kastning's previous solo recordings, and while the ‘harmonic blocks' concept no doubt played a significant part in the guitarist's thinking about the project during its formative stages and eventual execution, for the listener 17/66 will likely sound more like the next natural chapter in an ongoing story. And that's no bad thing: anyone who's derived pleasure from Kastning's previous recordings will find as much to appreciate here too. The customary signatures of his approach are very much present in these real-time explorations, each one a record of thinking translated into physical form. And as always a central part of the pleasure a Kastning release provides comes from simply attending to the beautiful, glistening sound the guitarist coaxes from his multi-string instruments; further to that, he eschews high-speed flash for a methodical, ponderous execution that enables those guitar sounds to be savoured in their fullest form.
The recording also serves to remind us that Kastning's a true original,
someone who's carved out his own path and followed it resolutely over the span
of many years and recordings. Neither classical, jazz, folk, or country, his
music inhabits its own special, distinctive space, much like its creator."
- Textura Magazine (CANADA)
The uber DIY guitar cat really does it all himself as he pulls three of his custom guitars off the shelf for a stunning solo excursion into a guitar world you didn't know existed. A cat can only do so much with two hands and 36 strings (that's a joke, son) and he pushed those tools to the limit and beyond. A very personal feeling private recital, this just plain takes it all to the next level of the game. Art for art's sake that never becomes precious.
Record magazine (US)
"The 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 Kevin’s 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; it’s 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 there’s no inclusion of Kevin’s 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."
-- Music Web Express webzine (US)
Kevin Kastning — 17/66
(Greydisc GDR3541, 2018, CD)
"Kastning has released nearly thirty albums on the Greydisc label since around 2000 (both solo and collaborations with folks like Sandor Szabo, Carl Clements, Michael Manring, Balasz Major, Mark Wingfield and many others), and 17/66 is his fourth solo release. His music is completely outside of all genre classifications, perhaps a bit of classical, jazz, avant, Americana and ambient figure into Kastning’s stylistic palette, but the results are truly his own. His guitar inventions are legendary (refer to his website for a complete description of his stringed instruments, tunings, etc.), and on this collection of nine tracks grouped into three suites, he uses his 36-string Double Contraguitar, his 30-string Contra-Alto guitar (36+30 = 66), both are double-neck designs, and his 17-string Hybrid Extended Classical guitar. These are all played without any effects or distortion (other than studio reverb) and are essential to his unique style. One can spend hours marvelling at all these guitar designs and other technical aspects (and believe me, I have, many times) but when these magical instruments meet the recording studio in Kastning’s hands, with his compositions and improvisations in tow, the only thing that matters is what effect it all has on the listener. All these strings have a very impressive range, but the compositions tend toward sparseness, leaving space as the one ingredient that sparks the imagination. The result is often a sense of stillness and solitude, a place where motion speeds and slows as the composer creates on the spot. The feeling one gets is sometimes reminiscent of the quieter parts of Steve Tibbetts’ Northern Song, but here there are no drums, no percussion, no beat to anchor the wanderings of the various guitars, other than what the bass and baritone registers of the guitar incidentally provide. I could go on for many paragraphs attempting to describe this sound and the resulting feeling, and would probably still fail to convey the mystery. I guess the only way to understand is to experience it for yourself, and if one hasn’t heard any of Kastning’s work before, 17/66 is a perfect starting point."
-- Exposé Magazine (US)
Peter Thelen, Published 2018-04-30
"Your work is very strong, Kevin. You are doing something of a high wire act
in music without sounding “experimental.” Your work reminds me of words by
Richard Howard when I was at CalArts. He said that complex forms of poetry such
as the Villanelle and the Sestina were powerful because they could refine your
thought into something beautiful you would not have reached without the
technical difficulty of the form. Richard was never one to believe that the
first thought was the best thought or any of that Kerouac stuff. While you have
not chosen to work in a pre-defined form, you have rejected the repetitive chord
structures or even a repetitive rhythm to help you waste time vamping until the
I don’t really know what the next challenge should be for you. I believe you have developed a genuine voice. The question should be now is where that music chooses to carry you. I believe you may work best when the ending of the story has yet to be discovered.
Your technique of improvisation is an invitation to the listener to live fully and to make choices constantly without slavish adherence to patterns. It takes a lot of work to live that way. Rock on!"
-- Billy Sheppard
Billy's Bunker webzine (US)
"Thanks for the copy of 17/66, Kevin. I’ve given it a first exploratory spin, dug it, and will look forward to additional listenings in order to fully process the scope of such an ambitious recording. Good work!"
-- Mike Metheny (US)
"I've listened to a few tracks from 17/66. I was really wowed by the sonic quality and how much your playing is evolving on these weird instruments. It's hard to apply some scale of virtuosity to what you do because there is no real comparison. But this felt more fully formed than anything I've heard yet from you. Nice work."
-- K.M. (Austin, TX)
"Last night I listened to 17/66 just as a good listener should listen. I listened to it not in an analyzing way but just let the music to grab me and take to a spiritual excursion (travelling). I must say this is your best solo album so far in all aspects. In the meantime I read your liner notes which I also like very much. The cover of your new album is FANTASTIC! It really fits to the music. Congratulations!"
"I listened to 17/66 a couple of days ago, all but the last track which I will listen to soon. The 17-string is incredible actually. It's as if I wasn't even hearing the instrument, I was just hearing the music rendered in pure form. The whole album is great. Track 1 and 2 and the penultimate track, I can only say are - genius, and I don't use that word lightly. At times it's like listening to some sort of idealised imaginary mixture of the best moments of ECM and my favourite modern classical composers. But then again it's totally original, your sound world is totally unique, so you don't sound like anyone else. Some of the things you conjure from your instruments are just totally amazing and spellbindingly great. Harmonically and sonically. Compositionally it's also totally amazing and I must talk to you more about how you "write" these pieces, which I know are improvised, but you also talk about writing them. Your instruments sound fantastic, they suit the music perfectly and you are getting a really great sound with the ribbons. Huge congratulations on this! I am totally impressed. And the final piece on your album. It is amazing. I mean I thought it was amazing when I heard the previous version, but now... it's awe inspiringly great. I rank it as one of my top favourite guitar pieces ever, by any artist. But also it's a beautiful, deep and totally original and engaging piece of music. Mega congratulations."
-- Mark Wingfield (ENGLAND)
"I love your music, man. This is great. Finally I listen
to good music after a long time, and it's your music. I don't know how to say
it. I'm very excited!"
-- M.S. (IRAN)
I listened several times to 17/66 and I was waiting to have deep enough words to tell you about it.
The musical landscape your draw with your unique instruments is incredibly rich, deep, complex and beautiful. Listening to your opus is like entering in an empty space where images come one after the other like dancing colored lights.
You play with light, you play with shadow, you play with colors. With your music, you touch one's deep emotions. Are we in an inner space, in a cosmic dimension? Your music joins microscopic and macroscopic.
The sound of the album is amazing, you developed a one of a kind acoustic sound and your playing is sensible, precise, carrying your dream in a sweet and loving mode.
Your music is a kind of western modern raga!
Each piece of these harmonics blocs is like a tableau coming from the deep universe. From which planet are you Kevin Kastning?
Bravo my friend, I thank life to have met you. You are a wonderful artist. Long life to you my friend."
-- Philippe Fouquet (FRANCE)