Austin, Texas, isn't exactly where you'd go to find -- or become -- a contemporary avant-garde composer. But since 1993, it's been home to Graham Reynolds and the revolving membership of his Golden Arm Trio. "It's not a niche-market kind of place," says Reynolds, originally from Connecticut. "I'm part of a broader community, instead of some super-micro-focused group."
Indeed, Reynolds himself seems hardly "super-micro-focused." Although he never pursued an academic degree in music, his works includes the classical realm of symphonies and concertos -- even a piece commissioned for a tuba conference -- as well as avant-jazz, film scores and boisterous, danceable fusion. The relationship between them all isn't even necessarily clear to Reynolds.
"[My] 'signature' is probably most clear if I'm playing on something ... I kinda go on the hope that, since it's my hands in each one of these things, that somehow there will be some personal thing that's unconscious," he says. "I like, usually, to have a layer that a non-musician can understand, and then layers that maybe only a musician would understand."
One example of that populist ethos at work is the Trio's soundtrack for Richard Linklater's animated film A Scanner Darkly. Linklater, also based in Austin, used Reynolds' piano music for a short film before inviting him to score his adaptation of Philip K. Dick's paranoid sci-fi drug novel.
"Almost all his films have [used] placed music," says Reynolds, "pop and rock and stuff like that. So I think having it be animated, and heightened in that way, allowed him in his mind to work with strings and a composer working in a scoring kind of way."
(Click to hear Graham Reynolds on working with filmmaker Richard Linklater.)
Exactly how to score it took trial and error. "They're all on drugs the whole movie," Reynolds says of the characters. "At first, I was thinking, 'Well, you know they're doing drugs, you see they're doing drugs -- you don't need to really tell [the audience] with the music that they're doing drugs.' But there was a disconnect. So we started making sure that the music linked up and it took you on that trip, so to speak, along with the visuals."
The resulting score blends electronic and post-rock elements with somber strings and noir-jazz, a stew as hallucinatory and weirdly beautiful as Linklater's rotoscoped vision. "I don't drink, I don't smoke, and I've never done any drugs. So it's kinda ironic, actually."
The Golden Arm Trio will play music from A Scanner Darkly at Garfield Artworks on Tue., April 24, along with its regular repertoire. The lineup features Reynolds on drums and piano, cellist Jonathan Dexter, saxophonist Donnie Silverman, and Chris Black on upright bass.
Graham Reynolds and The Golden Arm Trio with Ettrick, The Bronze Age and Heroes. 8 p.m. Tue., April 24. Garfield Artworks, 4931 Penn Ave., Garfield. $7. All ages. 412-361-2262 or www.garfieldartworks.com
- Super-macro-focused: Graham Reynolds