Perfect Sound Forever

Kevin Kastning

Between Two Worlds, Creating a Third
Interview, Part 1 by Mark S. Tucker
(December 2010)

Kevin Kastning is a somber, introspective, serious musician who has produced a series of duet guitar CD's that would be proclaimed a succession of rara avis'es in any time period in any culture. One could name such works as 'chamber jazz,' for lack of a better term, while looking to the best examples yet produced (the ECM label) but their true derivation lies in the classicalist canon. Kastning has absorbed a wide spectrum of the esteemed masters from de Machaut to Berg and beyond, so it comes as no surprise that the textures of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" Gregorian chant's unearthly ache and melancholy, and Mahler's moody fantasias are just as present as Satie's gymnopedies and gnossiennes, Messiaen's spatial irrealities and Schnittke's abstractions. None of these, however, is ever stated within their own terms; Kastning has made them his own.

He looks for the compelling stain of genius in everything, and this is why his pair-up with Siegfried and with Sandor Szabo have resulted in releases that recall the zenith of the Towner/Abercrombie team, Bill Connor's darkest aspects, Egberto Gismonti's most intense thoughtfulness and a small number of other guitarists who have, to one degree or another, experimented in this mode: Philip Catherine, Steve Khan, Larry Coryell, Jukka Tolonen, Alain Markusfeld, etc., though I perhaps err a bit in citing them. Again, this is by no means common music.

To listen to Kastning's work is to plunge into, bringing into service the label name, a greymist world. The atmospheres are vast and cloudy, riddled with fogs, barren wastes, lowering skies, phantasmal presences, echoes of incidents lurking at the border of perception. Each track induces a laconic contemplation subtly enthralling. The confines of the master fantasists (Hodgson, Lovecraft, Vance, Delaney, etc.) are evoked, though little is threatening in Kastning's realms. Rather, an exquisite tension is maintained, a sense of forever being on the verge of some revelation that will be enlightening while disquieting, a form of existentialism laced with nihilism within stoically Socratic netherlands.

The sympathies between this guitarist and his partners is almost spooky. In a concatenation of extemporaneous stylings, rapport is achieved preternaturally, telepathic in harmony. Anyone truly enraptured by the instrument and its further possibilities in acoustic expression - this necessarily precludes most general music audients - recognizes two landmarks in this mode: the aforementioned Towner & Abercrombie's Sargasso Sea and Five Years Later. As a sidenote, I was fortunate enough, many years ago, to have caught those two masters on tour at Hop Singh's in Culver City, California (it didn't hurt that the thoroughly neglected leonine Wayne Johnson opened for them either), and it has remained to this day one of the most riveting displays of musicianship I've yet witnessed. Keeping in mind that I've seen Jimi Hendrix, Pat Metheny, Tomasz Stanko, the Moody Blues, Srinivas, the Hyderabad Bros., Stevie Ray Vaughan, Philip Glass and myriad stellar acts in concert, I do not make that statement lightly and thus boast of having a small rough idea of what constitutes great music. Kastning, Szabo, and Siegfried all sit as explorers constituted of exceptional prowess, kindred to the above. They, the CandyRat label, and too few others are taking the acoustic guitar into new dimensions. Those who think the possibilities in the instrument have been exhausted are in for a surprise.

It's easy to get lost in such music, elevated mind theater of a stripe rarely encountered, painting in the air, sonic sculptures. Therefore, when interviewing Kevin, I decided to forego most of the standard inquiries regarding data otherwise available on the Web, posing just enough within technology aspects to orient the reader to the unorthodoxy of every aspect of this gentleman, afterwards zeroing in much more fully on aesthetics and art qua art. Thus, this first section hits the brick and mortar fundament more than the second will. I've read interviews with Kevin, perused some of his writings, and we'd e-chatted here and there following my reviews, in various venues, of his work, so I know him to be of enviable intelligence, rare comportment, and, well, just a nice guy. I think the reader will readily agree, while perhaps a bit daunted by the depths to which one guitarist descends to unearth that which composes his music... and himself.

PSF: I'd like to address a few mechanics first - and I apologize for any redundancies that may occur with past interviews, but I'd like PSF readers based properly in this matter - then dive into aesthetics. You've had modified guitars built for you by the Santa Cruz luthiers. How did that come about? Who approached who, and what were the discontents with standard design?

KK: Around 1999 or 2000, I began speaking with Santa Cruz about a modified D-type guitar. I love the rich, smoky, throaty, wide voice of their Ds, as much as that voice just speaks to me very directly and emotionally. The drawback, the discontent, with D types from other makers is that they are bass-heavy voices by nature, which I like in a D. However, with other makers, it stops there. The upper registers are usually not well balanced, and do not speak nearly as well as the bass registers. Usually the upper registers are dark, muddy and compressed. I had a couple of Martin D-28s which had the depth of voice I wanted, but as I moved up into the upper registers, it was as if someone was pulling back the gain slider; the top end was compromised and just wasn't there. The Santa Cruz Ds are not like that; they have a deep and roaring bass register, but they are the most well-balanced Ds I've heard; the upper registers are just sparkly and full. I also find their instruments to be very responsive. So I began speaking with them about one of their Ds, but there were some modifications I wanted. One was a cutaway, to access the upper registers. And slightly altered voicing. As I spoke with them over the course of a few weeks, I got to know their (at that time) production manager, Dan Roberts. Dan and I established a rare lingua franca regarding luthiery and instrument voices.

PSF: Let me interrupt for a moment, as I'm struck with this desire to articulate darkness. When I was interviewing organomorphic architect James Hubbell (for a book that never got off the ground), he was adamant that we should leave darkness alone because it's the source of art and inspiration, a sentiment I understood and respected but did not agree with - well, the "leave it alone" aspect only - for various reasons, and here you are exploring how that mapping can be done from a mechanistic aspect, which I find a singular and fascinating exploration.

KK: It would be interesting to discuss that with James Turrell. I find his work endlessly fascinating, and even tangibly audible. I've been in installations of his where I just get lost, and I mean that literally. Some of his work is so all-encompassing and immersive that spatial relationships and distance either change meaning, or dissolve altogether. I can clearly see various sides for and against Hubbell's point. It may be that artists are fearful of looking too closely at what I term "the source," which he may define as darkness, or asking questions of it or about it. I don't see it as darkness, or a darkness; other than it is not tangible or corporeal. I can understand that, by its very nature of being amorphous, this could be interpreted as darkness, since there is nothing to physically see or grasp. I would also posit that for others, it may not be a darkness, but a source of light. I again nod to Mr. Turrell. I've done my own questioning in the past, and looked at it as much as possible. I don't think that I emerged out the other end of that process any closer to having a concrete grasp or understanding. Yet what I have learned is not to question the actual process itself. I think attempts can and maybe even should be made to examine the source, but, in the moment, I have come to find in my work that I just have to trust it and let it lead me. I am by nature highly inquisitive, but, at the same time, I feel that I am here to serve art in whatever direction it might take. It's like a river meander. A river meander, being an element of nature, is going hold interest and beauty; and is a kind of natural art moreso than something like a canal, which is arguably a man-made river, thus having little or no meander. I try to take myself out of where the river wants to go, and let the meander take its own course and happen as it will, an organic rather than a controlled process.

As far as the KK series instruments relate to this, the process is almost akin to having a sound in my head before the instrument exists, in my brain, in my ears, floating a like a huge, transparent, delicate bubble of liquid. Each time this has happened, compositions form and exist within the bubble. My task is to relate and explain that bubble of liquid to Dan, to try to put an instrument around that sound, that texture, that sonic environment. The sound fully exists before the instrument is built, yet it is not of the physical world. Dan's task is to manifest that sound environment and landscape into the physical in the form of an instrument. With each instrument, the sounds, compositions, and processes have grown ever more complex, expanding. Originally, with the custom D from Santa Cruz, it was a simpler process to extract a dark yet not unbalanced voice out of an already existing and known instrument platform and type.

So, in pursuing that, it took the better part of a year for the first D to be completed, but it was and is a wonderful instrument. Dan went far and above what I had requested without asking me, but clearly knew what I was seeking. A year later, I mentioned to him that I was thinking of commissioning a modified OM from Santa Cruz. A D and an OM are both 6-string concert-tuned instruments, but the voices are almost at opposite ends of the spectrum, and thus complement each other nicely. He asked me if I'd consider becoming an artist endorser for them, and we could really work on the OM together. I said oh no, you don't want ME as an artist endorser! No one knows me, I'm not going to help your company at all. He just said to think about it. I called him again in a few months, and said I wanted to discuss some OM design possibilities; for example, an extended fingerboard in concert with a cutaway and some specific voicings. He was agreeable, and again asked if I'd do an artist endorsement for them. I again became squeamish. Dan said something that really spoke to me that day, after I again said "you really don't want me for this." Dan said that no one was doing anything like my music. No one was doing what I was doing, and he found it to be totally originally and truly artistic. He said that my music put much in the way of demands on an instrument, and for Santa Cruz to be associated with my music would mean a lot to them. He said they wanted to partner with me and support what I was doing; that it wasn't about fame or commerce, but about the music. That really spoke to me. So, after mulling it around for a few months... I called him again. I said yes, let's move forward on the OM, and I'll become an artist endorser, too. Dan really went all out on it, and the voice I had spent months describing to him was right there in the OM when it arrived here. Completely and entirely.

PSF: This is so rare, this collusion just to forward art, shared among kindred minds, tackling the obtuser aspects of how it's really done. I know Matthew Montfort and a few other guitarists are interested in expanding the range and palette of the instrument are engaged in similar efforts but not to this degree. We've seen John McLaughlin, Alan Holdsworth, and others strike somewhat into the territory but never with such rapport, single-mindedness, and dedication.

KK: Well, around this time, 2002 I think, I had just finished an album with Siegfried called Book of Days, and we were beginning to work on new compositions which would become the album Bichromial. In 2004, I utilized both the D and OM on early sessions for Bichromial; it was about an eight-month recording process. During the months we were in the studio, I began to hear and compose pieces for a low-register string instrument. Lower than guitar, but not a bass. I could not realize or execute these pieces on guitar; the register was all wrong, the scale length was wrong, the voice was all wrong, the textures were not there. I called Dan and started to explain what I was hearing to see if he had any suggestions. He said "You're describing a baritone guitar." I said "What's that?" I had never heard of this. I asked him some questions about the baritone registers and tunings. It sounded intriguing. He said why don't you let me send one over to you; you can use it in the studio, see if that's what you're hearing. He shipped out a Santa Cruz DBB baritone to me. It was tuned to C below E when it arrived, which is the lowest tuning for which it was designed. It was in the direction of, but not exactly, what I was hearing. I experimented with string gauges and lowered tunings for weeks, finally settling on A below E. It wasn't perfect, as the instrument wasn't designed for this, the registers weren't balanced; the lowest notes on the A string didn't speak as well as the rest of the range, but it was pretty close. Nonetheless, it was certainly encouraging and even exciting.

PSF: What, then, was the upshot?

KK: There are several pieces on Bichromial which were recorded using that DBB. I was really falling in love with it. After the record was released, I was talking to Dan about what I perceived to be the limitations of the DBB, but they really weren't limitations as such. The guitar just was not meant to be tuned as low as I was using it, nor was it designed to support the semi-massive string gauges I was utilizing. I was really pushing it beyond anything it was designed to do. We began talking about what I came to call an "extended baritone," which would have a longer scale tuned to F# below E, which is one whole step above a bass guitar. Heavier string gauges for sure. We had to modify the low two tuners to accept the larger gauges as well as craft a wider neck and fingerboard. Santa Cruz happily built this for me, which came to be called the DKK in their model nomenclature. It arrived about midway through the recording sessions for the album which would be released as Scalar Fields.

I was very excited about it; this was exactly what I had been hearing. It was perfect. The DKK has this cello-like singing quality in the upper registers, which was a wonderful surprise; neither Dan nor I knew what the upper registers would be since it was such a bass-register instrument. Such an experiment had never before been attempted, but, all through the design and build process, the one thing I stressed regarding the instrument voice was balance. Yes, it was a bass-register instrument, but I tend to use the full ranges of instruments, so I wanted the upper registers to speak equally well. It was all that and more; it's just a massive edifice of a huge, pipe-organ-cello kind of rumbling singing fantasy. I used it on about half of the pieces on Scalar Fields.

PSF: The grail was found? The quest ended?

KK: Just after Scalar Fields was released, I was out one day, thinking about the two instruments I'd used most on those sessions: my Martin 12-string, and the DKK extended baritone. The thought just popped into my head: "Too bad they can't be combined." Instant satori. I remember just stopping and heading for a phone. I called Dan, and said "Let's do a 12-string version of the DKK." I explained the tuning scenario I had in mind along with a couple of quick details, tunings, and scale length. I asked Dan if he thought it was possible. He said "Yes, I think so". We spent about a year on that one, which came to be called the DKK-12. It was also tuned to F# below E, but, unlike a concert 12-string, all courses are in octaves, no unisons. When it arrived, I was just flabbergasted. I'd never heard anything like it. Dan and Santa Cruz had once again exceeded my expectations by a very wide margin. The first record on which I used the DKK-12 was Resonance, with Sandor Szabo. In fact, once Sandor heard it, he ordered a 12-string baritone too! Since 2006, the DKK-12 has been my main instrument voice.

The KK series guitars

PSF: The never-ending journey. I suspect you'll sooner or later begin to envision extensions to the DKK-12. I've always wondered if, for instance, harp guitars couldn't be improved to achieve a more muscular and active response from the drone strings or perhaps if, say, a 10 to 15 non-paired-string acoustic guitar mightn't be variably tunable to provide playable drones as well as active strings. Given the ceaseless quest for innovation and the advancing of expression, these thoughts occupy the aesthete and the creative listener. You seem very much interested in expanding accepted borders, so I wonder what future design alterations you foresee, and what would, though it may presently be just on the barely pragmatic side of possible, be your dream guitar?

KK: Interesting timing on this question, as a new invention of mine called a Contraguitar just arrived here a couple of weeks ago. This is a long scale, 14-string, 7-course instrument. The full story behind it is on my site so I won't repeat it here. This is pretty close to a dream instrument for me. I've worked on it with Dan for over three years (he departed Santa Cruz and has since founded his own company: Daniel Roberts Stringworks; the Contraguitar was built by the new Stringworks). One factor that influenced its design is the 11-string, 11-course Altengitarre, which is a short-scale classical guitar tuned to G above E for courses 1 through 6; the remaining five strings are usually tuned stepwise, descending. This is an instrument originally intended for playing renaissance and baroque lute transcriptions, though I've yet to use it for that. The low five courses were designed as continuo, or drone strings, meant to be played open, not stopped. Again, not how I was using it. I was utilizing all 11 courses equally. But the lowest bass courses are somewhat difficult to reach. So the width of the neck and fingerboard for the Contraguitar were impacted by the width of the neck and fingerboard on the Altengitarre, as well as the reach. The Contraguitar will most likely become my main instrument going forward. It's tuned E (bass) through A and covers the registers of a bass, a baritone, and is up into the low alto range as well.

While it was originally conceived as the logical extension of the direction in which I was going with the DKK-12, it has turned out to be an order of magnitude beyond that. The Contraguitar covers the registers of three separate instruments: bass, baritone, and guitar; as well as dipping into the low alto registers. I've already been speaking with Dan about the next phase; it will be something in the 16 to 18 string region in a course configuration of 8 to 11. The Contraguitar was born exactly like the DKK: I had compositions for which an instrument to realize them did not exist. It's an astounding instrument - again, exceeding my expectations. I just can't hear it enough.

PSF: And, from what I'm inferring as you delineate all this, there are always new problems. What cropped up now?

KK: Well, there is the issue of tunings. On the DKK-12 and the KK-Alto, I've devised various sets of intervallic tunings. In these tuning scenarios, the root or diapason string remains constant, while the octave strings are no longer tuned to octaves, but each course is tuned to a different interval. Harmonic possibilities just exploded. This has unlocked entire new worlds for me, new colors have been discovered, and the depth and breadth of what was possible has expanded exponentially... and is continuing to expand as I learn the Contra. Harmoonic and compositional horizons surround the distance.

PSF: Let's turn to engineering matters. The recording method you prefer - microphone to preamp to recorder - sounds a lot like Robert Fripp's audio verite work. In this, I'm guessing you like as pure an immediate constructionist approach as can be attained as versus the artificiality of 'post' work (dub-ins, pitch control, effects, etc.)...not to mention as much of the player's presence co-equal to the guitar itself as can be met. This, of course, leads to an inquiry regarding synthesizers and such, which are fairly distancing on several levels. You compose for piano but are you eschewing interpolating synths into your guitar 'darkworks' or, for that matter, any of the composing you do?

KK: Correct, that is my preferred studio approach. It is quite direct - yet not just direct, it's a captured performance, no different than an orchestra in a concert hall surrounded by recording gear. For me, it's the most beautiful and pure vehicle for capturing what is otherwise ephemeral. To use the work I've done with Sandor as an example for this question: what is the difference between composing on manuscript score paper and composing to tape? Both are equally valid compositional doctrine with the same terminus. The end point of both is a completed composition. A composition in a printed score is little more than frozen improvisation. In real-time composition, the tape becomes the manuscript score paper; thus, the process of capturing this composition should be as pure as possible.

PSF: I'm so glad you brought a crucial point up: the fact that compositions and improvisations are basically the same thing. I've had arguments with other critics and encountered resistance, yet when I interview musicians like Tomasz Stanko, they speak precisely in that direction. I have to shake my head when I read composers and players maintaining that composing and improvising are distinct and separate activities. Plainly, they are not. One starts from nothing and creates, the other creates atop a given platform, but both are new material no matter how you look at it. I think if classical musicians could understand this, they'd cease being duplication machines and strike out more on their own as distinct creative artists a la Kronos Quartet and others.

KK: Yeah, I would imagine you'd get that from other critics. Not being artists, they'd not have the experience of being a part of that creative process, of that birthing procedure. You're rare in that you not only see it, you understand it and get it. On the other hand, I don't really see you as a critic! I would not be surprised if you received that reaction from some musicians as well. Composing and improvisation take different forms, are sometimes achieved with different media, differing locus - manuscript paper versus tape, for example. But the end game, the intersection, results in a composition. Frozen improvisation. And I must stress that I speak now of pure improvisation, wherein the entire composition and everything in it, is created - everything, every compositional element - not a jazz improvisation where the soloist is locked into a pre-existing framework of predetermined diatonic chords and form. Fixed harmony. Fixed meter and rhythm. Fixed and very finite form. The end result in this scenario is merely differing melodies over the chord changes and repeat. This is a type of improvisation to be sure, an element OF improvisation, but it is not pure. It is only one element of composition, not entire compositions. It's the difference between painting a house and architecting it.

The classical musicians I know... well, it's a different discipline. In conservatory, they're not taught composition. They're not exposed to the tools of composition or any element of that discipline. They learn their instrument, but only as it applies to sight-reading and interpretation. I do have tremendous respect for this process and for the musicians too. I'm not trying to take away from that. I was once in a master class of a very well-known classical guitarist. I won't mention her name, but she is currently the head of the guitar department of a highly respected conservatory. She played a couple of pieces very beautifully, great technique to be sure. There was a Q and A session after the class, for which I stayed. Someone asked her "How do you feel basing your entire career on never having created a single note of your own?" She got a completely blank look on her face and said "I don't know what you mean." The audience member politely explained that she was an interpeter, not a creator, and asked if that bothered her. Again, blank stare, but this time she simply said "No." Now, if this is what someone wants to do, if this is their passion, that's a wonderful thing. But the disquieting part of this scenario is that the thought of composing or the act of creating, not re-creating, seems to have never occurred to her. So foreign was this concept that she didn't even seem to know how to answer the question. I have seen this syndrome in many, though not all, of the classical musicians I've known. I've put that question, though in gentler form, to a few classical musicians with whom I was comfortable. Some didn't know what to say. Regarding the matter of composing, one particularly honest one replied "I don't know how to do that." I pointed out that they could learn. I received a shrug in reply. Then again, the obverse of this would be someone asking me if I'd ever thought about never composing a single note and only focusing on recreating the compositions of others. It would probably be my turn for a blank stare.

But, getting back to your curiosity about keyboards, I haven't composed or recorded anything involving electric keyboards (synthesizer) yet. Yet. I mean, I have composed pieces for cathedral organ, harpsichord, 10 piano sonatas thus far; you know, acoustic keyboard instruments, nothing yet for electric keyboards. I don't know if I will, but I know if I say I never will, the next record will be synthesizer and guitar pieces (chuckles). I have spoken with Chuck Wild a bit about a project, but due to his label contractual obligations, we can't do it. I've heard some lush and atmospheric orchestral patches which are very evocative but don't have an overtly synthetic texture. I like those. They are not trying to emulate real orchestras but, instead, rather unique sonic textures based on orchestra. Orchestral sui generis. There are instances wherein an electric instrument, a guitar or a synthesizer, when paired with an acoustic instrument, can provide very welcoming environments and evocative textures and sound worlds. The timbral atmosphere of an acoustic/electric duet tends to magnify the unique sonic and tonal elements of the opposite voice. Instead of the blend you get with an acoustic duet, in a mixed duet (acoustic and electric), the stark contrast truly frames each instrument. Executed well, it can have a genuine and deep emotional impact and reach.

PSF: Yes. Ever since Machaut, who prefigured the Romantic and Impressionistic in music, sonic transfiguration of emotion has been the frontier. Previously, the artist had to achieve that through manipulation of sonority and its applications, rules dominating; now, sonority has to subordinate to the artist, rules created at need. Atmosphere, not a succession of well-ordered appointed notes, dictates.

KK: I have a kind of addiction to harmonic atmospheric environments. I've composed pieces, some string quartets, which incorporate this phenomenon, but I've not done a recording project of a similar nature involving a mixed duet. Nothing is planned or in the works, but I would be open to something with acoustic guitar voices and keyboards if it were the right project and the right person.

PSF: Do you avoid electric guitar entirely always, even privately, or just concentrate on acoustic instruments in order to maintain the exquisite environments you and Szabo, and you and Siegfried, create in that very particularized fashion?

KK: Yes, total avoidance. The electric doesn't speak to me as something I'd want to use. In my hands, it feels plastic and synthetic; it's not the thing itself, there is something between me and "it." For me, in my work, an electric guitar sounds and feels like the difference between a nine-foot Steinway and a portable Casio. They both have keys, but are they the same instrument? Acoustic instruments are very demanding, and I do devote my working time to them. Each KK series instrument has really been intensely demanding to learn, and now I'm learning the Contraguitar. Knowledge of concert six-string doesn't map directly to them, just being able to get a good tone is an entire learning process. In fact, the Contraguitar is changing aspects of tone production for me; it is akin to learning an entirely new instrument.

PSF: Myself having both electric and acoustic guitars (and readily confessing to absolute amateur status) and having listened to innumerable guitar recordings, I find I have to define the two versions as completely alien to one another - that is, the acoustic really is a completely different instrument from the electric in almost all possible ways save for the commonality of possessing strings and frets. Have you given thought to exploring the possibilities electric guitars yield in terms of tone, variation, extrapolation, and in fact entirely new milieus that might stretch the outer limits of your canvases and visions even more variegatedly?

KK: It is indeed a wholly different instrument. I have in the past played electric, though I've not touched one in probably 20 years. I've heard true artists on the instrument - Alan Holdsworth comes to mind - but, for me, with electric, it seems as if there is something between me and "it." There is an unnatural barrier, an artifice, a mechanism. With an acoustic, there are no impediments, it is very direct and organic, everything about it - the touch, the resonance, the voice, the air being pushed out of it, the fact that it is a more physical instrument - and I think that's a direct connection to personal touch, voice, tone, response, and overall technical execution.

On an acoustic instrument, I really think a preponderance of the voice of the instrument is due in no small part to the player. Tone production is in the player's fingers. There's just no where to hide; nothing is going to create or assist in tone production for you. Much of an individual's voice is in his hands. I don't hear that as much on electric. With electric, there are so many non-player or non-human variables which impact the end tone: pickups, outboard effects, amps, amp modeling. With an acoustic instrument, it's just you and it. I hear more breadth, depth, and vista with an acoustic; yet, at the same time, it can be so intimate as to be inside your heart. To me, when I'm playing electric, it's a mechanism. For me, it doesn't feel like a true instrument with a soul; with a voice.

The key words here are "to me." I have heard true artists on the instrument, I'm not slagging it. I'm only saying it's not my instrument. As for stretching the outer limits of canvases and visions, the acoustic guitar, both steel and nylon, has yet to be really and fully explored. By expanding the ranges and registers of the acoustic with the extended range instruments I've developed, I hope to make a small scratch in the surface of what is yet to be discovered and explored.

PSF: So... electrics are out? End of story?

KK: Well, all that being said (chuckles again), my next record project is an album with Mark Wingfield, who is a British electric guitarist. Mark's playing is very expressive and original. He is a rarity in that he has his own distinctive voice on electric. With myself on acoustic guitars and Mark on electric, the result will be something rather unusual for us both. I'm looking forward to it.

PSF: Have you considered turning the mood of your oeuvre a little on its head and working with, say, an acoustic version of the (electric) piccolo guitar or any such higher-pitched axe? John Abercrombie has done so with an electric and achieved distinctively unique turns of sound. Would such a transfer or augmentation fit your vision?

KK: Again, interesting timing on this question. In 2008, I developed the 12-string KK-alto guitar in cooperation with Santa Cruz. This is a short-scale 6-course 12-string tuned to A above E. The courses are in unisons, not octaves - or I should say that the starting point is unisons. I do various intervallic tunings with the alto as well. During a stop on the 2009 European tour, Sandor and I recorded a new album wherein I am using the alto and the 12-string extended baritone, each tuned in various intervallic tunings of my own devising. That record will be out in spring 2011 and is the first album of mine to feature the A alto guitar. I did some experiments while designing the alto guitar with my Martin 12-string, using my alto gauges and tuning to G above E. That works, but just barely. You can hear this instrument on Returning. It's close to the same alto A register, but the voice is very compressed. The promise and potential are there, but it doesn't quite work. The KK-Alto in A is an entirely different beast; the instrument is just alive. It sounds less like a guitar, and more like an amalgam of harpsichord and mandolin. It is absolutely a different instrument than the extended baritones; I had to learn it and allow it to teach me things. For all the KK series instruments, this is a process that is ever continuing, as is all the growth and expansion.

See Part II of our Kevin Kastning interview

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