Sándor Szabó

Performing artist, Composer, Music researcher

Untitled Document

mwe3.com presents an interview with Kevin Kastning and Sándor Szabó
The Ethereal III interview

mwe3: With such a depth of experience between the two of you, did
you seek to create Ethereal III as a 21 st century crossover classical
masterpiece? Although Ethereal II sounded very avant-garde and
experimental in the best sense of the word, is Ethereal III the album
to bring you to the attention of the serious classical music listener?

Kevin Kastning: I had nothing regarding classical crossover in mind
when I proposed the concept to Sándor. I do not think in terms of
categories of music or how to label a project. I can only follow where
the music needs to go. I think Ethereal III was the next compositional
level of evolution of some of the work on which Sándor and I have been
working over the past couple of years in this series.

Sándor Szabó: To be honest we did not have intention to do some kind
of dedicated music for the classical listeners. We do not think in styles
as crossover or something. If we have a musical idea we try to find the
devices to make it happen. Of course there was a compositional reason
why we created the Ethereal III with this kind of sound. Both as a
composer and guitar player I have always felt the limitations of the
guitar. This might be one of the reasons why classical guitar occupies a
lonely place within the classical music world. Not everyone can compose
for guitar; only those who intimately know the limitations and
possibilities of the instrument. Even if someone knows the guitar well,
the instrument does not offer the necessary levels of polyphony and
tonal ranges. Since the beginning of my career I have had my own
compositional concept to create music. The guitar proved to be
unsuitable to achieve them. This is why I started to use more strings,
to use special tunings, etc., to extend the possibilities of the
instrument. I tried to follow the way others compose for guitar;
however, I encountered new obstacles. As a composer, I decided to
suspend composing using only guitar. Instead, I wanted to compose in a
different way to avoid the limitations of guitar. Ethereal III is my
first attempt in composing for a chamber orchestra, and also the very
first album where I do not play guitar and I appear only as a composer
creating the orchestration behind Kevin Kastning’s piano pieces.

mwe3: In his Ethereal III liner notes, Sándor expressed the need to
build upon and go beyond the guitar-centric based ideas that are
featured on your earlier works. How and in what ways, melodically and
harmonically, do the orchestral string sounds accentuate and enhance
the piano-based ideas on Ethereal III. The album is truly an orchestral
sounding masterpiece.

Kevin Kastning: Sándor articulated it very well, but I don’t see or hear
our previous work as being guitar-centric, other than the fact that our
guitar-family instruments were the vehicles for the realization of
those compositions and settings. It’s all just compositions. In other
words, I wouldn’t describe Mahler’s work as being orchestra-centric.
He was a composer, and his compositions were orchestrally realized. It
is the same for the work of Sándor and I.

Sándor Szabó: I cannot go into deep details of the compositional
process but the main difference is that there was not a guitar in my
hands when I composed. Some parts were in my head, some were
written down on a manuscript, some parts were just born in front of
the computer seeing the editor window of my ProTools. It was a very
time consuming and complicated process. I used dozens of
compositional tools to create special harmony textures which was in
possible create with a guitar in my hands. I had to open my ears and
imagination and the music started to be born. I worked with in 4-5
melody voices to create canons, small fugue structures and the
harmonies are only the consequences of this polyphony. As working
materials I used exotic tonal scales, modern pentonal scales.

mwe3: Why was the decision made to only feature piano-based
orchestrations on Ethereal III? Did you feel that Kevin’s piano was
more suited towards the orchestrations Sándor had in mind to frame
Kevin’s piano compared to the guitar-based compositions on your other
albums? Will you be featuring the orchestrations more in the future on
the guitar compositions as well? Will the orchestrations feature even
different string combinations?

Kevin Kastning: When Sándor and I were discussing and formulating
the concepts for the Ethereal album series, one thing upon which we
both agreed was that each record in the series must be different than
the others in the series. We didn’t want to repeat ourselves, and
wanted the Ethereal series to be something apart and perhaps even
partitioned off from our acoustic guitar duo works. This direction
provided Sándor with the freedom to explore our music using electric
guitar and placing its environment within the context of my acoustic
environment. That alone set us off into an entirely new direction.
Ethereal I and II were examples of this new direction. During the
recording sessions of some of the early pieces for my record Piano I,
Sándor asked me to compose and record a set of five short piano
pieces using specific guidelines, which I did. I sent those pieces off to
him, and totally forgot all about it. Then at one point on the 2018
European tour, Sándor played a recording for me; it was a piece for
piano and cellos. I really liked it, and asked him who it was. He told me
it was my set of five short piano pieces and his cello overdubbing. This
made a very strong impression on me. A few months later when we
were discussing the direction for Ethereal III, I suggested that I
limit myself to all piano for the record. He agreed, and I started work
on some new piano pieces. As I was recording the new pieces, I kept
thinking about the piano and cello piece from the tour. It was a strong
piece, and very different from anything we’d ever done. So I proposed
to Sándor that instead of piano and electric guitar that this record be
piano and orchestrations. It was a pretty bold move, and I didn’t know
what Sándor would say. Fortunately, he liked the idea, and so we set
off in that direction.
Yes, we are planning to do some orchestrational recordings with me on
my acoustic guitar family instruments. That will be a future entry in
the Ethereal series for certain.

Sándor Szabó: I always loved Kevin’s piano pieces and one day I
showed him a version where I added 4 cellos. It was possible, because
Kevin composes sparse structures, which lets me compose and add
further layers to it. After he heard it he suggested me to go ahead
with this idea, so I started to compose on his piano pieces. Piano and
string orchestra sounds beautifully together so I started to think in
cellos, because it is my favorite string instrument and I see more
sounding possibility in than it was achieved in the classical music so far.
We are planning to combine cello orchestra with two guitars, so
somewhen in the future we come out with a very special album.

mwe3: I wasn’t that familiar with the computerized orchestral
software used in coloring music on the new album. Sándor said that the
popular software he knew of wasn’t good enough. I must say that the
orchestrations make this album a highly unusual though quite rewarding
listening experience. Can you say something about the strings software
that is featured on the album and how does it compare to other
software as well as say how it would compare to using actual string
instruments or even venerable string based instruments like the
mellotron or chamberlain? I guess using real strings is impossible for
this album but also true in most albums being released these days.

Sándor Szabó: Yes, the sound is unusual, mostly because I used 4-8
cellos, 1 violin and 2 double basses to create this sound. This setup is
not typical at all in even in the contemporary classical music, so it
cannot sound very familiar, but I wanted to do something unusual and
this is why I used this instrument setup. I did not use computerized
orchestral software. Maybe it is strange, but I have chosen a quite old
method to build the music and the sound. I worked with a cello player
and I recorded many hundreds of differently played notes as samples.
These were recorded by microphones and I used those sound samples
as sound files in my ProTools just like the recorded piano sounds. The
cello sounds were not modified or optimized. To work with these
samples demanded much more work and time, but the sound has been
individually unique; for example, containing random sound elements
naturally occurring in live playing. So all what you hear on the recording
is played notes without using orchestral software. This can be a
ridiculous working method for a professional composer who composes
for example sound tracks for movie using developed orchestral
software, but this made me different options. I pulled the notes each
by each to the editor window because I wanted to avoid the options
which are readily offered by orchestral software, and in this way I was
guided only by my imagination. As a result my orchestration sounds
more organic and less uniform than the software orchestration.
Software is useful for working fast, but the sounding result is always
the same, kind of sterile and digital.

mwe3: Can you tell us when the music on Ethereal III was recorded and
how the project evolved from when Kevin recorded his tracks and when
Sándor took the tracks and added the orchestral parts? What was
discussed when the idea first came up to record an album of this scope
and dimension? I know it’s nearly impossible for independent musicians
to travel thousands of miles to record music and the internet has not
only made that so much easier but advancements in the high tech world
has also made the end results near fastidious in its pursuit of sonic

Kevin Kastning: It was recorded in December 2018. When we started
on this project, we both thought it would be a very long-term project,
possibly requiring a full year of composing and recording sessions. But
after I recorded the first piano piece and sent it to Sándor, something
happened. Something just took over and within a couple of weeks, all
the piano pieces were completed. As I worked on the next piano piece,
Sándor would be working on the previous one, so he was one piece
behind me. It didn’t take him long at all to finish the orchestrations.
So this massive recording project that we thought would be a full year
was actually completed in about three weeks.

Sándor Szabó: How we collaborate with Kevin is not so typical. We
send recorded parts to each other and we do overdubs to develop the
pieces. We know and accept that the result can be very different what
we imagined in the beginning, but we really like it. This working way has
a special excitement of the unpredictable result which is great and
inspiring. We started this kind of “remote working” because we live in
different continents and economically it is impossible to make such a
project only this way. This is the blessing of the internet.

mwe3: What do you think the reaction will be by not only long time fans
of your music but say also to classical radio stations and classical music
review magazines and web sites. Do you feel that Ethereal III be
accepted by 21 st century classical music aficionados even more so than
your earlier album releases and have you gotten any feedback on the
album yet?

Kevin Kastning: The reviews and emails I’ve received from listeners
thus far have been very positive, and it is receiving airplay in the US. I
don’t know if the hardcore classical community will embrace it, but how
a new record will be received is never a consideration for me. This
music needed to happen, it needed to be; that was my only
consideration. There is a sizeable audience in the US that follows
modern and contemporary classical music; perhaps Ethereal III will
find a home with them going forward.

Sándor Szabó: I was not thinking in reactions, I just wanted to bring
out this music of myself. The classical listeners seems to be very
traditional for me in Hungary where I live, but I do not know how it is
in the US. I guess it is similar. We would be outsiders in that circle, so
we did not want to correspond to it. There is a small audience for
modern classical and avant-garde music, they might like this music. I
can also imagine listeners who like movie soundtracks they would
probably like these special pieces.

mwe3: The Ethereal III song titles are very unusual sounding. Can you
explain the meanings behind the song titles? Most people think of Latin
as in Spanish but it’s mostly like ancient languages right?

Kevin Kastning: The titles for Ethereal III are all in Latin. Latin is a
classical language, and dates back to the Roman republic in pre-BC
times. I used it to obfuscate the meanings behind the titles, as I want
the listener to find their own meanings, their own messages in the
music and not rely upon or be influenced by preconceptions of
compositional titles.

mwe3: The cover art of all your albums are great but Ethereal III is
truly spectacular and the colors are great. Is there a story behind the
cover art and also is this the first album on Greydisc that is packaged
in just a single slipcase rather than the usual full packaging?

Kevin Kastning: The cover art of the Ethereal series were all done by
Tim Paulvé, a French artist. Sándor and I both felt that Tim’s highly
unique and individualistic work really fit the Ethereal series; the more
electric aspect of the series. Specifically for Ethereal III, the main
colors in the cover art are deep blue and purple. I felt that the two
colors represented Sándor and I, and the way those two colors strand
together is a good metaphor or analog of the compositions on this
record, and how our two compositional halves melded into a singularity.

mwe3: So will you follow up with Ethereal IV next time, maybe
featuring the orchestrations with guitars and even percussion? What
plans do you both have for 2019 as far as new recordings and possible
DVD videos or even live concerts? How about future Greydisc albums
being planned for 2019 and beyond?

Kevin Kastning: Ethereal IV is in the can, and will be released in 2020.
It is different from any of the extant Ethereal series. For upcoming
recordings in 2019, Mark Wingfield and I are in post-production with
our next album. I will be in the studio this year with Carl Clements to
work on our next projects. I’m also working on the next two solo
albums; both of those will be pretty different from the previous solo
works. There are also a few album projects planned with some new
collaborators, so hopefully some surprises coming over the next year or
two. Sándor and I are also mapping out our next two or three projects;
both in the Ethereal series and in our long-running acoustic duo

Sándor Szabó: As much as I know from the release plan of the
Greydisc Records the Ethereal IV would be a special trio recording
with electric and acoustic guitars, percussions, and some oriental

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