ANDREAS KAPSALIS AND GORAN
Ivanovic had crossed paths and shared stages
in the Chicago area for several years before
teaming up as the Andreas Kapsalis & Goran
Ivanovic Guitar Duo in 2009. Steel-string
virtuoso Kapsalis had established himself
as an innovator on the “eight-fingered” tapping
scene, performing, recording, and
scoring feature films with the Andreas Kapsalis
Trio. Nylon-string maestro Ivanovic is
a native of Croatia who studied with Eliot
Fisk and other hallowed classical guitarists,
but whose aesthetic also encompasses jazz
and a host of world music traditions, including
Brazilian and Macedonian. He has
performed and recorded with Eastern Blok,
the Goran Ivanovic Group, and Fareed
Haque, as well as teaching at Carnegie Mellon,
Princeton, Cornell, and other major
universities as a guest artist.
“We each have completely different perspectives
on the instrument, and soon we
realized that there was a very interesting
musical connection and an ability to finish
each other’s musical sentences, if you will,”
says Kapsalis regarding the impetus behind
forming the Duo. “During the past year we
finally got together and tried to identify what
was missing out there as far as guitar music
goes, and what it would make sense for us
to record,” adds Ivanovic. “We sat down for
a couple weeks and came up with a bunch
of tunes for the record, and we were really
pleased with the way it came out.”
Andreas, there are a lot of eight-finger players these
days that sound a lot alike. How did you come up
with fresh approaches using that technique?
Kapsalis: I couldn’t use my left hand
for a couple of months due to an injury, so
I started playing with my right hand and
discovered that that approach had many
advantages. One thing it allowed me to do
was to sound more like other instruments—
piano, harp, cymbalom—which is something
I’ve always been interested in doing.
I would arrange orchestral pieces for guitar
in order to try to understand the
harmonies, and play as many of the individual
parts at once as possible, which led
to a lot of my two-handed techniques. To take the tapping approach to the next level,
I think it is important not to just rely on
open tunings or bouncing off harmonics,
but also to be able to, say, play scales with
the right hand as effectively as with the left,
and to use each hand independently of the
other. Tapping is sometimes thought of as
a novelty and I want to make it more legitimate
and to apply serious compositional
approaches to the technique. It’s an extended
technique like legitimate extended
techniques on any other instrument.
Both of you obviously have very different
right-hand techniques. Describe the differences.
Ivanovic: I studied classical guitar for
many years, and that is the foundation of both
my right- and my left-hand technique. But the
classical world is a little too conservative for
me, so I always try to take things from other
styles, such as flamenco. I like to bring out a
lot of color and detail using my right hand,
and there are a lot of options just in the way
that I pluck the strings with my nail. One side
of the string will produce warmer sounds than
the other, playing closer to the bridge will
change the timbre and the attack, playing with
just one finger or my thumb will let me shape
the melody differently, etc.
Kapsalis: I have a very untraditional
right-hand approach. Some of the techniques
are reminiscent of other tapping guitar players,
and some I came up with to get sounds
I can’t get any other way. I primarily use my
thumb and index finger, and my other fingers
move like little acrobats bouncing in
and out to make things happen. One common
right-hand technique I use involves
tapping a note and then moving it around
the fretboard while I tremolo it, at the same
time plucking chords with my thumb, so
that I’m playing the melody, sustaining the
bass, and adding harmony simultaneously.
Briefly describe your primary instruments
and why you favor those guitars.
Ivanovic: I have a single-cutaway classical
guitar made by Robert Boyd Desmond. It
has maple back and sides with a German
spruce top, and was designed for flamenco. I
also have another classical guitar that was hand
built for me by Richard Brune. It has Brazilian
rosewood back and sides, a cedar top, and
two sound holes—one normal and one on the
side. I also play a Godin Multiac ASC and a
Danche archtop. I string the classical guitars
with hard tension D’Addario strings.
Kapsalis: I play a John Goodall Grand
Concert guitar. I also have a Taylor Grand
Auditorium that I play when the Goodall
is in the shop, and an M.E. Brune classical.
I string my main guitars with custom sets of GHS Bright Bronze strings, gauged
.013, .016, .025, .032, .048, and .060.
How about amplification?
Ivanovic: I use a Fishman piezo pickup,
though I’m not sure of the model. For amps
I have a Roland AC-60 and a JBL powered
speaker off to the side.
Kapsalis: I have an old Fishman
Blender that I use with an internal microphone
and a standard piezo pickup. The
signal from the Blender goes into an AER
Domino amplifier, and I also have a
Roland Bass Cube for additional lows.
The acoustic guitar obviously wasn’t
designed for tapping, so when you play
that way there are lots of anomalies that
the Blender helps me compensate for.
Other than the Blender, do you use any special
equalization or compression to bring out
the more subtle aspects of the tapping?
Kapsalis: I generally try to stay away
from compression because I feel it can suffocate
the instrument. The engineer did add
a little compression when we recorded the
album, but I was adamant about only using
a little. It was the same with EQ and reverb.
We wanted to get a very natural sound
So you relied entirely on your fingers for
all of the dynamics on the recording?
Kapsalis: Yes. We just made sure that
we had very good headphone mixes so
that we could hear each other in a detailed
manner that allowed us to achieve that
level of subtlety.
Ivanovic: We really try to listen to
each other carefully and to follow each
other’s phrasing and dynamics, whether
we are recording or performing or just
practicing. We both play with extreme
dynamics. Constantly changing things up
makes the music much more exciting.
It sounds like there are few if any overdubs
on Guitar Duo.
Ivanovic: That’s right. Other than a
few “percussion” overdubs played by
Andreas on his guitar, what you are hearing
is just the two of us live in the studio.
Kapsalis: The recording process was
quite simple. We were facing each other,
with a couple of Neumann microphones
between us. It was important for us to
play together at the same time because
we wanted to capture the same energy
that we have onstage.
Were you also using your amps and combining
their sound with the microphone sound?
What percentage of the music on the album
Ivanovic: “Improvisation for Satie”
was the only fully improvised song,
though there is slow section in “Samba
in 10” that was kind of loose.
Kapsalis: All of the music was written
in a very short period before we
recorded it, so there wasn’t much time
to over-think things, and that allowed for
a lot of spontaneity in terms of dynamics. There’s a certain magic that happens
in our performances sometimes where
we accelerate simultaneously, which adds
a lot of fire and additional excitement.
Do you take more liberties when performing
the songs in concert?
Ivanovic: We play the songs on the
album pretty much the same way live, but
we do sometimes ask the audience to give
us suggestions for improvisations. They’ll
shout out things like, “Play a baroque
song” or “play a polka,” and we’ll just start
with that simple idea and go from there.
Walk us through your compositional
process using “Shadow Thief” as an example.
Ivanovic: One of us came up with a
simple melody, and we thought it would
be cool to play it against a part in 7/8 with
a kind of tango feel, so we came up with
that introduction. But then we changed
the accents to give it more of a Serbian or
Greek quality, because we just can’t help
ourselves. We have to put some spice in
there and change it a little bit. One of the
things we enjoy most about Balkan and
Greek music is the use of odd meters—5,
7, 9, and 11—which has become a signature,
if you will, of what we do. Another
characteristic of Balkan music is that the
tempo can change from very slow and sad
to very lively and fast, and in that piece
we go from a slow 7/8 to a very fast 7/8.
Kapsalis: Then we decided to go into
a Klezmer section. And after that it just
felt logical to go back to the head.
It also sounds as if you are tuned way down
on the bass end?
Kapsalis: The most common altered
tuning on the album is dropped-D, but
“Shadow Thief” is in standard tuning
except that the low E and A strings are
tuned down to C and G. The .060-gauge
sixth string still sounds good when tuned
down to C. In fact, I’ll often tune the sixth
and fifth strings down to B and F#, but I
didn’t use that tuning on the album. I also
like D, A, D, G, C, Eb and D, B, B, F#, B, E.
Do you both use alternate tunings?
Ivanovic: No. I mostly play in standard
tuning, but once in a while I’ll switch
to dropped-D or open-D tuning.
Kapsalis: Alternate tunings help me
to forget theory and compose more organically.
They throw my mind off so I don’t
know what a particular chord shape is
going to sound like or even what note
I’m on—and that makes me feel as if the
instrument is new again!