presents a new interview with
Kevin Kastning and Carl Clements
mwe3: How did you come up with the title Even this late it happens and did the sessions inspire the album title or does the title make some other statement? Does it possibly reflect upon discovering some new musical ideas that dawned on you both during the album and were any new musical ideas brought to light on Even this late it happens during the discussions as to what directions to take on the new album?
Kevin Kastning: I put the album title together one night when I was reading some poetry by Mark Strand. Something I read triggered that as a title, so I ran it by Carl to get his opinion. I thought it fit this project, and Carl did as well. By the time I figured out the title, the album was already completely recorded. I don't think I've ever had the title before the album was recorded. I don't know what the title should be until everything is completed; the title is always based on the music. I don't want to say too much about how and why I think the title fits this record, as I'd rather leave it to each listener to find a connection.
mwe3: In your estimation is Even this late it happens more whimsical and lighthearted than 2016ís A Far Reflection in the way the music was constructed? Were there any untapped musical ideas from the previous Kastning / Clements album that influenced Even this late it happens and what did you learn from your earlier albums that might have helped refine the musical ideas and your sonic rapport on Even this late it happens?
Kevin Kastning: I don't think there were untapped ideas that remained from previous projects, no. When Carl and I start recording sessions for a new album, we discuss the direction for that album and then move into that direction and that space. Our rapport or connection has always been there, but over all these years, it just seems to only get stronger.
Carl Clements: I donít think we set out to be more whimsical and lighthearted, but due to the improvised nature of our music, each project very much reflects the mood of the moment. The tracks are the result of multiple recording dates, so I think the mood may vary significantly from one piece to the next. I donít think that we were considering specifically what was untapped from the previous project, but I think there are infinite possibilities in the music weíre doing, so there will always be new ideas and approaches to draw from. I donít see it as improvement, but rather a separate set of musical conversations. That said, I think the more we play together, the stronger our rapport.
mwe3: Kevin plays the 36-string Double Contraguitar, the 30-string Contra-Alto guitar and the 15-string Extended Classical guitar on Even this late it happens but the album credits donít list which guitars are featured on what tracks. Can you let us know which guitars Kevin used on each of the tracks and were there other devices used this time such as using the ebow on the 36 string?
Kevin Kastning: I didn't use the Ebow on this record. Here are the instruments track by track for Even this late it happens:
Tracks: Kevin Kastning / Carl Clements
1 To the presence of movement 15-string Extended Classical guitar / Tenor saxophone
2 No longer known; no longer in sight 36-string Double Contraguitar / Soprano saxophone
3 A veil of absence 36-string Double Contraguitar / Soprano saxophone
4 Corridors unconsidered 36-string Double Contraguitar Alto flute / Bansuri flute
5 Imaginary chapters 15-string Extended Classical guitar / Tenor saxophone
6 Circles and waiting 15-string Extended Classical guitar / Soprano saxophone
7 Words laid upon a table 30-string Contra-Alto guitar / Soprano saxophone
8 The wings of night 15-string Extended Classical guitar / Tenor saxophone
mwe3: Is Carlís saxophone sound more prevalent on Even this late it happens compared to say Watercolor Sky and A Far Reflection? Which instruments did Carl play most on Even this late it happens and were there any new wind and horn sounds discovered on Even this late it happens?
Carl Clements: I did end up playing a fair amount of saxophone on Even this late it happens as I only used flute on one track. Other albums have feature the flute a bit more, though I do still think of the saxophones, tenor and soprano mostly, as my primary instruments. Iím featured most on soprano on Even this late it happens...
mwe3: You said earlier that A Far Reflection was more contrapuntal, compared to your other albums so was Even this late it happens contrapuntal or meditative comparatively? I liked Carlís word Ďrasaí which he used to describe the mood of each piece. What was the rasa like in the studio while making the new album?
Kevin Kastning: The album was recorded during three recording sessions. The first was in December 2016, and the other two were a week apart in June 2017. In my opinion, Even this late it happens is more contrapuntal than meditative, but I think it's a record which will impact each listener in a different way; some may hear it as more meditative. The studio rasa was contemplative and almost meditative, in my opinion. Carl may have other thoughts on this!
Carl Clements: I canít really label Even this late it happens as specifically meditative or contrapuntal. In some ways our album Watercolor Sky was unique in this regard, since we specifically selected tracks that were more meditative in nature. A Far Reflection, which followed Watercolor Sky, had more contrapuntal elements in comparison, but generally I think our albums explore too many textures to label them in those terms. Even this late it happens has some tracks that are contrapuntal, some that are exchanges of musical statements, some that involve one of us taking a supportive role while the other takes the foregroundóand this will usually alternate within a given track. Regardless of the texture, though, I feel like almost all of our music serves as a kind of meditation, in that we immerse ourselves in the moment and allow the music to happen. This is true of fast, contrapuntal pieces as much as slow, textural pieces.
mwe3: You mentioned before that your music often defies musical categories and that it includes all types of genresófrom experimental classical to avant-garde jazz and World Music. When you plan and create your recordings do you think in terms of genre at all? Kevin had mentioned some very insightful terms saying that when you plan out an album you think in terms like structure, register and harmonic and rhythmic concepts. Can you elaborate on those terms like structure and register and how do they come into play on Even this late it happensÖ for example, on the lead off track ďTo the presence of movementĒ and throughout the album?
Kevin Kastning: Neither Carl nor I think in terms of genre as it applies to our records. We don't say "Let's make this more of a jazz record;" we just plan a compositional direction for the record, and then discuss that and break it down on a composition-by-composition basis. We only want to follow our own direction, regardless of genre.
Regarding structure, this is in terms of the overall shape of the composition. For example, in a symphony, the structure may be that the string section has an exposed part or section, then the woodwinds have their highlighted part, then maybe both the strings and woodwinds have a composed section where they are both active. That is a type of structure.
For register, it's something we always discuss. My instruments have a much wider and broader range than a 6-string guitar. The total of Carl's instruments cover a wide range as well, from tenor saxophone to flute. We discuss instrument ranges and combinations of ranges, which also includes discussing instrument combinations and colors.
The opening track is 15-string extended classical guitar and tenor saxophone. Together, these provide an interesting and unique texture. To my way of thinking and hearing, the classical guitar voice is more delicate and fragile than the steel-string voice. The tenor sax has a big, wide voice, which is located in Carl's lower registers. So to combine this strong woodwind voice with the more exposed and fragility of the classical guitar makes for a beautiful color and textural combination. These colors and textures can and do impact and even sometimes determine the direction of a composition.
Carl Clements: Kevin and I are both inspired by a wide range of music, but it isnít our intention to fit into any specific category. Because we rely so strongly on improvisation, there might be a tendency for some to categorize the music as jazz. And itís certainly true that jazz is a big part of my musical life, in that Iíve long studied and listened to jazz, I teach jazz saxophone and improvisation at Amherst College and UMass, and I often play in settings that would typically be categorized as jazz. However, Iím also deeply involved with Hindustani classical music, which is another largely improvised music, and there are many improvising traditions around the world that have no direct relation to jazz. Since improvisation is essentially spontaneous composition, it can result in any style, or no style at allóat least no style thatís yet been defined. When Kevin and I improvise together, we react to each other rather than a predetermined set of stylistic expectations. This helps to pull us out of any patterns or tendencies that we might fall into individually.
Structure, register, harmonic and rhythmic concepts, and various other musical elements such as melodic and thematic elements, shapes, use of space, etc., are certainly integral to the music we make together. Sometimes aspects of these will be briefly discussed beforehand, but itís mostly determined in process. In the track you mentioned, ďTo the presence of movement,Ē there is a descending figure played on tenor sax that is echoed as a strong thematic element for much of the piece, and contrasted by a more jagged theme. I think both of these themes, as well as various other elements, help to provide a kind of structural continuity. But I really think of our interactions as musical conversations, so the music is free to move in any direction. Generally, though, I think the initial musical statements in any of our pieces play a strong role in determining the direction of the rest of the piece.
mwe3: Regarding Kevinís 36-string Double Contraguitar, has there been any news on the instrument since over the past year? How is it holding up and how do you maintain an instrument of such complexity? Also have other artists started to use the 36 or is it still way to complicated for most guitarists to fathom and perform? Also have you explored other new techniques in playing the twin necks at the same time and how about some videos on the 36 string?
Kevin Kastning: The 36 is doing great. The carbon fiber instruments are fantastic in so many ways, but one advantage they have over wood instruments is stability and reliability. I've been playing them for 5 or 6 years now, and I've not had a single issue. I come to love carbon fiber instruments more and more, and for what I'm doing with these big multi-string instruments, carbon fiber is superior to wood. The only drawback to these instruments is that it takes over three hours to change strings on the 36!
The techniques for these instruments seems to be continually evolving and developing. Both in seeing each neck and tuning separately, and seeing them simultaneously together as a single instrument. Hardly a week goes by where I don't learn something new with them, or find a new technique, or stumble across a hidden secret they hold. Some performance videos are indeed in the works. I'm not sure when they'll be completed, but hopefully soon. They'll be available on YouTube. As far as I know, no one else is using these instruments. It could be the added complexity and learning curveÖ I can't say.
mwe3: How many instruments has Kevin invented over the past 15 years and which of these inventions is he the most proud of? How many guitars are in Kevinís collection of guitars and does he consider himself as much of an inventor as a guitarist and composer?
Kevin Kastning: I get a little squeamish at the word "invented," as I never set out to actually invent a new instrument; nor do I consider myself as an instrument inventor. And I think they may be more of an evolution of the guitar rather than an entirely new instrument; I don't know. So maybe "designed" could be a more honest term than "invented." As for how many instruments I've designed, I'd guess about 8 or 9 that have been completed. There are three new ones that are presently in the works.
I don't think there is a single one of which I'm more proud than the others. However, my current main instrument is the 36-string. It feels like home to me. The 30-string is like the other half of the 36; sometimes I think of them as one big 66-string instrument and conceive of tuning systems across all of them, like a single overarching 66-string tuning. The 15-string Extended Classical is like a secondary voice, but it is so beautiful to me that I do use it more than I had originally planned back when I conceived of it.
The instruments are realized out of a compositional need, so again, I'm not just trying to produce something that is heretofore inexistent just for the sake of novelty. They are required to realize and to break through compositional barriers and limitations.
mwe3: Does Carlís choice of sax or flute color a track as much as Kevinís guitars? For example on track one ďTo the presence of movementĒ his choice of sax makes the sound more lively, is that the soprano or tenor sax and how do those two instruments differ in terms of mood or sonority?
Carl Clements: I certainly think the choice of instrument, whether tenor or soprano sax, flute, alto flute, or bansuri, significantly affects the color of the track, though itís more a matter of timbre than the degree of liveliness. Iím playing tenor sax on ďTo the presence of movement,Ē and while that track is maybe more upbeat that some of the other tracks, I donít think the choice of tenor sax necessarily drives that (Iíve used soprano sax and flutes on tracks that feature brisker tempos and higher density of notes).
Each instrument I play has a wide range of possibilities, so itís more a matter of how I approach it. But each instrument is distinct in terms of sound color, and each instrument has a range of possible sound colors I can draw from. For example, if Iím playing tenor saxophone in the altissimo register, thereís a significant overlap into the range of the soprano sax, but the sound tends to be more strained and urgent.
mwe3: The track times on Even this late it happens vary a lot. For example, track two ďNo longer known; no longer in sightĒ runs almost thirteen minutes. Do you prefer lengthy tracks to fully unwind a performance and how does the length of a performance and unfolding of ideas influence the track timing?
Kevin Kastning: When I'm working with Carl, we rarely discuss composition length. Some compositions want to be longer; when that happens, we allow it to grow as it dictates. With Carl, I don't have a preference for longer tracks; I just want the piece to be the length it should be. Some of the longer tracks feel rather short when they're being recorded; then when you see the actual duration of a piece, it can be quite surprising.
Carl Clements: For the most part, the lengths of our tracks are determined by the mood of the moment. Sometimes a track will feel like a complete statement after a relatively short time, other times one idea leads to another, and it takes a longer time for us to feel that weíve realized the pieceís potential. There have been times when weíve discussed composition length beforehand, but mostly we just let it develop naturally. And even if we proposed an approximate length beforehand, weíre not bound by this, and will let a piece take whatever shape feels natural. Once the music is flowing, it feels like it takes on a life of its own, and we generally donít want to inhibit this.
mwe3: Even this late it happens was recorded at Studio Traumwald in December 2016 and June of 2017. How would you contrast the two different recording dates? Did certain tracks sound different because they were recorded in different seasonal settings?
Kevin Kastning: I can't speak for Carl on this point, but I know I always have a very different studio feel in winter versus summer. I don't like recording during the summer, but for this record it couldn't be helped as it can be difficult to get our schedules to line up. That said, I can't point out concrete seasonally-related differences between the two recording sessions; I just know I feel differently during those two contrasting seasons, and I suspect recordings and compositions are impacted by seasonal differences.
Carl Clements: I think seasons have a significant effect on both of us, though not always the same effect. I tend to be more of a summer person, and Kevin more of a winter person. But I think there are too many influences on our moods and music to be able to say that the season determines the musical direction. Itís one factor among many.
mwe3: Carlís bansuri flutes are tuned to different pitches. Can he give an example of where using flutes with different pitches can change the color of a track? Is flute one of the only instruments that uses different pitches or keys, sort of like a harp or harmonica? What flute pitch do you like to record most and how many different tunings are featured on Even this late it happens?
Carl Clements: On Even this late it happens I only used bansuri and flute on track 4, ďCorridors unconsidered.Ē I start on a standard European-style C flute, and later switch to a bansuri flute in the same key and general register. I chose a bansuri in this pitch because it allowed for a certain continuity of sound while allowing for the use of different techniques. You can hear the subtle change of timbre at 4:25, along with greater fluidity between the various pitches. The European-style flute has keys, which largely force the pitch into a specific tonal location, whereas the bansuri has open holes and no keys, so through subtle manipulation of the pads of the fingers, one can get infinite gradations of pitch between any two, or more, notes. I choose a specific ďkeyĒ of bansuri based on what key I want to have most immediately and comfortably available, as the set of holes do have a limited set of pitches, essentially a diatonic scale, when only fully covered holes are employed. However, by partially covering a hole, I can get any gradation of pitch between two diatonic notes that I choose, so I can play chromatically and beyond.
mwe3: What else is currently of interest to you musically in the world today? Seems like thereís a whole new generation of musicians on the rise while venerable legends keep departing for the next world. Have you given more thought on how you see your place in the music world where you see your music heading towards as the future unwinds? What other projects and collaborations are you planning as self-produced musicians and artists this coming year?
Kevin Kastning: Finding new composers is really interesting and exciting; of late I've been listening to Kalevi Aho; he is a contemporary composer from Finland. And discovering works of other composers as well. Often there are composers from previous centuries that I know well, but will find a piece of theirs with which I wasn't familiar, and it's like a real discovery and learning experience for me. I don't think about my place in the music world, if I even have a place in the music world.
Other current projects for me are new albums with Mark Wingfield, Sandor Szabo, Balazs Major, and others. Carl and I will be starting recording dates for our next album this month, and I have a couple of solo album projects in the works. The next record with Sandor is the start of a new series for us which features Sandor on electric guitar and electric baritone guitar. Very different than any of our previous records, and we'll be doing a European tour in 2018 to support that record and this new project. And I am working with Alistair Hay at Emerald Guitars on two new KK series instruments; very excited about those.
Carl Clements: Iím inspired by a wide variety of music, and Iím always open to new sounds. As Iíve said, jazz remains an important part of my musical life, and my students often introduce me to interesting new music in that vein. Iím also continuing to listen to a lot of Hindustani classical music, and am always inspired by the playing of my bansuri teacher, Nityanand Haldipur. Since I live in the Five Colleges area near Amherst, in Massachusetts, there are many concerts featuring music in a wide variety of genres, old and new, mainstream and avant garde, that inspire me. Iíve recently been revisiting Beethovenís string quartets and the music of Ligeti, among other things.
Itís hard to say what my place is in the music world. Iím just grateful that I have the opportunity to do music that I love and manage to survive while doing it. I made the decision some years back to free myself from most commercial restraints in the music industry by pursuing more teaching. Iím fortunate that Iím able to share my knowledge and experience in music with an up-and-coming generation, and my students inspire me as much as I hopefully inspire them. I just want to continue to create as honestly as possible, and hope that some of what I create has some meaning to others.
But the process of musical creation is for me a necessity in itself, so I canít worry excessively about whether there will be a place for the music. Itís nice when the music you love gets some recognition, but I see it as counterproductive to let that determine the direction of the music. Iím working in a wide variety of musical situationsófrom cross-cultural collaborations to mainstream big band music to new music for various instrumental combinations. Kevin and I will certainly continue our collaborations in the coming year, and I hope Kevin and I have a chance to do some recording with Kevinís frequent collaborators Sandor Szabo and Balasz Major if things align correctly.
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