April 26, 2007

New, Bold Score to Potemkin

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If Austin-based musician Graham Reynolds were an animal, he would be an octopus. Best known as the mastermind behind the Golden Arm Trio and for scoring Richard Linklater’s 2006 film A Scanner Darkly, the composer adroitly juggles between musical projects as if he had eight arms.
Reynolds has completed scores for five other feature films, dozens of short films, animated shorts and silent films, in addition to composing four symphonies, two operas and a violin concerto. He constantly works with major theatre and dance troupes and has won numerous awards. Currently he is on tour, performing his score to the historic 1925 Eisenstien film, Battleship Potemkin.
After the owner of a local theatre in Reynolds’ hometown suggested he score Battleship Potemkin, Reynolds decided to undertake the difficult task. “It’s a classic film,” he said, explaining that because the film has such a significant historic context, he “didn’t want to too blatantly jump out of the period.” But this didn’t prove too difficult a task for Reynolds, who is “very interested in 20th century Russian composers anyways.”
Although the film is a period piece, Reynolds was not confined by fashions of the time. The score “breaks out of that mold [of 20th century Russian composition] frequently,” he said. Reynolds’ music teems with an expansive range of influences and almost entirely eludes genres. From bold symphonies, to jazz-fusion, much of Reynolds music resembles raging espionage-rock — with thick, dirty drums, reverberated guitars and hypnotic horns — Reynolds infiltrates, like a spy, a wide span of genres, moods and musical eras. When his group, the Golden Arm Trio, performs his score, “everybody improvises and everybody crosses over” between genres and styles, Reynolds said.
In Austin, Reynolds performs his score live with nine other musicians. But while on tour, Reynolds is accompanied by only three other musicians, who play saxophone, cello and bass. Reynolds leads the group, playing acoustic piano and drums. He explained how the cello represents the “film element” of the music and how the saxophone represents the “more rock stuff,” and that the group tends to jump between and synthesize these styles of music. At times, the band departs far from traditional film composition and explores modern jazz and rock territory. In 1925, director Eisenstien experimented with a montage technique — a rapid collage of diverse images — to evoke emotion from his viewer. In many ways, Reynolds’ approach to film composition mirrors this diverse and ardent film editing technique.
Along with the Battleship Potemkin tour, Reynolds recently released a self-titled Golden Arm Trio record. Reynolds masterminds the GAT, and is the only permanent member. Having his hands tied by so many other projects, Reynolds explained the long process of completing this album. “It’s the only project I have that doesn’t have a deadline,” he said. One of the many projects that prolonged the completion of the GAT record was composing the score for Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly.
After working hard in Austin, Reynolds earned a reputation that allowed Linklater to approach him, after a gig, and simply ask him to write the score for his new movie. Working with director Linklater was “really fun,” Reynolds said. Linklater used an innovative animation technique on A Scanner Darkly that involves shooting the film live and then animating over the footage. “We had a lot more time than you normally would on a film” due to this progressive animation technique, Reynolds said. “It took a year to edit the film together. So during all that time, we were able to play with the music and go back and forth.”
But this long process had its effect on Reynolds. “Every time I’d come back to [the GAT album], I had musically moved past where I last left it,” he said. In order to refine his writing process, Reynolds explained, “I started overlapping my projects as much as possible.” By incorporating themes from his other projects, Reynolds hopes he can keep his production rate consistent with his development as a composer.
But as an acute composer, Reynolds does not recycle material — he always writes for who will be performing the piece. “I will take a theme that I developed for a film or theatre and adapt it for a band,” he said. This way Reynolds can keep up with himself, and constantly push his own boundaries. But overlapping in this way, to write for many forums, is not as easy as it sounds. “The [writing] process definitely shifts with each medium,” he said. Writing for film is a “highly collaborative” process, he explained.
When working with Linklater, ideas went back and forth between director and composer. Reynolds explained how in the early stages the two would share ideas. “You’ve got to find out what’s in the directors head,” he said. “And reflect the themes and message of the film.” Although intensely collaborative, “ultimately the director is in charge of the final piece.” On a project like Battleship Potemkin, however, Reynolds holds the reigns — he has the final word.
Reynolds has always been an independent thinker and pursued his passions. At Connecticut College, Reynolds earned a degree in Latin American history. Although Reynolds had “no intention of following up on it,” he completed that process as well. “I pretty much knew from junior high on that my main interest was music,” he said. After college, Reynolds moved back to Austin and began working in the industry. And now, his career is in full force.
The Golden Arm Trio will perform Graham Reynolds’ score live to Battleship Potemkin at 8 p.m. in The Straight, this Saturday, April 28. Opening will be Austin band, Tristero.