From the Middlesex Beat magazine; December 2004

by Maureen King

Kevin Kastning is a soft-spoken artist completely at ease with his craft. Not so comfortable, the composer reveals, is being put into a box labeled “modern classical.” With the release of his third CD, Bichromial, the imaginative writer/composer has again stepped way outside those suggested boundaries. Admitting his compositions for guitar have a strong modern classical influence, both Kastning and his audience know there’s a lot more to it.

For Bichromial, Kastning has again partnered with Portland, Maine classical guitarist Siegfried. The composer and guitarist also collaborated on two earlier CDs, Binary Forms and Book of Days. With Bichromial, the two have produced a very different sound from their previous work. Varied instrumentation has given way to baritone and steel-string classical guitar. Eighteen open form improvisational studies composed by Kastning and Siegfried are meant to form a cohesive and singular whole. The creator compares the series of moody interplays to T. S. Eliot’s collection, The Waste Land, where individual poems stand on their own, yet contain a similar thread of tonality. Purposely omitting liner notes, Kastning and Siegfried have let it up to the listener to form their own images and meanings in the ethereal compositions. “Open Form No. 8” was just picked up by Chicago’s classical radio station WDBX for their “experimental music” broadcasts.

A rich interweaving of unhurried improvisational duets, the flavor is hauntingly atmospheric. The textured interplay between Kastning’s baritone and Siegfried‘s concert pitch steel string delivers the listener to a soothing, meditative solace. The autumnal texture of the disc makes it the perfect complement to a coastal art gallery opening on a gray, misty evening, a moaning foghorn in the distance. “The most introspective music I’ve ever heard,” revealed one fan to the composer.

On a recent cool November afternoon, the fair-skinned artist tucked himself into a cushy seat at the Concord Center Starbucks. Coffee in hand, Kastning spoke with a quiet confidence about his life’s work. In describing their latest release, the composer believes he and partner Siegfried have put forth strong music, yet more esoteric than mainstream listening material. “It’s so unusual I think everyone will have their own take on it. It’s like looking at an abstract painting, everybody takes away something different. I compose from what I hear internally, not with an audience in mind. Writing for an audience becomes marketing thing…a commodity. It has never appealed to me. Fortunately, people have liked it. But it’s like eye color; I have no control over it. It’s just a piece of me that I’m doing for me.”

Apparently somebody’s listening...and liking it. In 2001, Kastning was approached by Santa Cruz Guitars to be an artist endorser. Santa Cruz delivers a distinctive instrument, crafting their guitars from Honduran and Peruvian mahogany, among other imported tonewoods. Daniel Roberts of the prestigious California-based guitar company made a succinct appeal to the artist. “No one else is producing music like you, no one is doing it. It would mean a lot to us as a company to be associated with you,” stated Roberts. Buoyed by his belief that the Santa Cruz guitar is truly the “modern day Stradivarius”, the composer accepted. “It really meant a lot to me because I just love their instruments.”

In 2003 and 2004, The London Chamber Group performed two of Kastning’s pieces including “Arborescence,” a piece inspired by a hiking trip near the musician’s hometown of Groton. After rave reviews the group requested an additional Kastning composition for their 2005 season. Things began to roll for Kastning and Siegfried, who were then invited onto Greydisc Records. Being approached by the small Massachusetts label was an experience the shy musician admits to being, “satisfying…nice.” Two earlier CDs with partner Siegfried were receiving significant airplay on NPR, ABC Classical and Australian Public Radio. A second CD for Greydisc is in the works, with Kastning and Siegfried returning to a more varied instrumentation, featuring Kastning on fretless classical guitar, 12-string guitar, and mandolin. As yet untitled, this CD is due out in 2005.

As a child in Wichita, Kansas, Kastning received elementary school instruction in wind instruments and French and baritone horn. At the age of seven he took a homemade manuscript sketchbook along on one of his many hikes, a practice the artist still employs today. As a child would draw pictures, a seven-year old Kastning began to sketch little songs for piano. It remains the artist’s first recollection of original composition. Kastning would move on to guitar in seventh grade, continuing with trumpet, French horn and baritone horn through high school. The artist pursued further formal training at Wichita State University, and by graduation knew exactly what he wanted to do. Entering the Berklee School of Music in Boston, the burgeoning composer knew he would never return to the Midwest. He simply fell in love with New England.

While studying at Berklee, Kastning discovered enormous opportunity in getting to work with the right people at the right place. He was able to absorb invaluable instruction on the side from jazz great Pat Metheny during afternoon sessions at the musician’s house. Kastning recalls his mentor as being “brutal, but that was great.” Back at Berklee, unknowing professors were somewhat startled by Kastning’s talents musing, “Wow, you’re really improving.”

In the setting sun of a late fall afternoon, Kastning went on to compare the process of melding together the 18 series of Open Form studies on Bichromial to the Ravel string quartet playing overhead in Starbucks. The artist sat described a process of melding the individual pieces together like chapters from a book or movements from a symphony. “They were constructed to stand on their own, but they’re all part of that series. It’s like this Ravel,” the classical aficionado points out from the string quartet heard overhead. “Four instruments are playing something different but yet they come to a cohesive whole.”

Kastning explains the title for Bichromial is based in the definition of chromatic, a term indicating the progression of semitones. While searching his brain for a name for the new CD he began thinking about music as a “chromatic pallet” with a broad range of color and tonality. “I couldn’t find a word to describe that, so I made one up,” confesses the shy composer with a smile. “Bichromial” indicates a dual chromaticism.”

The warmth of the Kastning-Siegfried vignettes comes across in intricate fretwork. The haunting effect engulfs the listener in a mesmerizing ambience. You are formally invited to pour a warm mug of your favorite brew and curl up in front of a wood fire and drink in what the UK’s Music News is calling, “A fine record for the onset of winter - find some time and enjoy it.”