Getting the music right

The Baltimore Sun

The rotoscoped 2006 film A Scanner Darkly begins seven years from now with a scene that sends shivers down spines. As Freck (Rory Cochrane) twitches and itches, aphids scramble down from his scalp and across his whole body. Graham Reynolds struggled for nearly 1 1/2 years to create the right music for this eerie, frantic scene.

"It was the first scene we worked on, and it was the very last scene we finished," Reynolds confessed. Two nights before the soundtrack was due, he and his Austin, Texas, band, the Golden Arm Trio, scrapped the version they had in favor of a completely new one.

Richard Linklater's film of Philip K. Dick's haunting novel stars Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder. Critics agreed that Reynolds' soundtrack was a stellar accompaniment. Reynolds and the band will perform this and the band's soundtrack to the silent film Battleship Potemkin on Wednesday at Current Space.

Reynolds - as pianist, drummer and composer - is the sole permanent member of the Golden Arm Trio. The rest of the lineup constantly rotates, with 12 regular members and dozens of appearances. His ever-changing group has created and performed the soundtracks to more than 20 silent films.

Reynolds' methodology is akin to that of a film composer, he said. Composers are "not going to use the same instruments for each film, because they won't need the same sound," he said.

When he founded the Golden Arm Trio in college, Reynolds knew that he wanted to be able to switch back and forth between piano and drums without "feeling that something was wrong."

While writing these soundtracks, Reynolds is used to exercising "total artistic ownership." On the other hand, writing for A Scanner Darkly was a much more collaborative process, as he had to cater to the needs of the director and the scenes. For example, Reynolds originally thought that an all-acoustic soundtrack would make the film seem more timeless.

"Trying to predict music in the future is very difficult," he said, "so I was trying to make something that wouldn't date itself, that had a blurry origin."

However, once scenes were filmed, then animated, the soundtrack seemed disconnected to what was on the screen, Reynolds said. Electronica elements became the link it needed to connect the audience with the characters.

"Their emotional connection is very heavy, but they also goof around a ton," he said. "Being able to connect to all of these things was the initial challenge."

For Reynolds, who began playing the piano at age 5 and started composing at 10, inspiration comes from all types of music, from mixtapes to pop to African music - "whatever I can get my hands on," he says.

While he was studying at Connecticut College, Reynolds hosted a radio show that offered the same sort of musical cornucopia.

A switch from classical to jazz training allowed him to play "blindly," or by ear, though both types have been influential, he said.

Reynolds has composed four symphonies, two operas, a violin concerto, more than 12 one-movement string quartets and a number of chamber music pieces. He is also the resident composer of Salvage Vanguard Theater and a company member of Rude Mechanics, both of Austin.

"Turning eclecticism into cohesion has been the challenge," he said.

Graham Reynolds and the Golden Art Trio will perform Wednesday at Current Space, 30 S. Calvert St. Local act Noble Lake also is scheduled to perform. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $6. Call 833-368-8158.

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