{In June 2012 Kevin Kastning spoke to mwe3.com about In Winter}

mwe3.com 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 meet Michael?

KK: Hi Robert. Yes, it’s 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 it’s 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 I’ve 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 I’d 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 don’t know him, but you’re the third person that’s said that to me!” I hadn’t 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 I’d 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: I’ve 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 wasn’t 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 I’m 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 Michael’s 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 didn’t come into play in those instances. In those situations, it wasn’t 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.

mwe3: 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 Winter music?

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 we’d 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 we’d 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. It’s 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?

KK: 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 mic’ed 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 didn’t 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 Sándor’s country of Hungary? What are your impressions of Hungary for music and life in general?

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 I’ve toured there, the concerts are well-attended and it’s not unusual for us to sell out small to medium concert halls. Hungary is a beautiful country; I’m surprised it doesn’t 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 don’t 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 don’t 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?

KK: The 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 I’d ever played with Balazs, and the performances happened just like you hear them on the record. Each piece is composed in real-time.

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 Mark’s 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 I’ll begin a piece and we’ll 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 I’m mic’ed. 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 Michael’s 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 don’t 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 don’t 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, they’re 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. I’m 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 we’ve 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 I’ve never worked; I can’t 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 folks.

I 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, we’ll be appearing in concert at Drom in NYC. While he’s 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. I’m 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. We’ve 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. I’m 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 he’s playing 11-course lute, a rather renaissance instrument, but he’s 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 don’t 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.

I think by now we’ve 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 can’t mention just yet. And the album with cellist David Darling is coming soon. Oddly enough, I’ve 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 don’t want to predict when that will be out, as it’s 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, we’ll 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 year.

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. I’ll 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. I’ve been using C2 in my own intervallic and altered tunings. C1 remains in octave tuning. Also on C2, I’ve 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. I’ve been using capos in various unorthodox ways on C2 as well. I’ve been working with Nick Campling at G7 Performance Capos, and he’s been supplying me with some excellent tools for this. I’ve 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 I’m using C2 as well.

Also 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 I’m playing classical on I walked into the silver darkness, Dreaming As I Knew, and In Winter. And the new album with Sándor that’s out next month has some pieces where I’m 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 that instrument.

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. I’ve 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, we’re 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