Music man

Graham Reynolds has written scores for trash trucks, designed sound for meals and at Design Indaba Conference 2014 he gave the audience a Texas soundtrack.

Graham Reynolds creates, performs and records music for film, theatre, dance and concert halls. He is based in Austin, Texas, where he met his latest collaborator DJ Stout.

“I performed at Austin Pecha Kucha Nights, which DJ organises, and afterwards he approached me to create a live, original music score for his talk at Design Indaba,” says Reynolds.

Stout’s talk was about designing from a place and since he is from Texas the score needed to capture a sense of this vast State.

“Famous Texan writer Frank Dobie had this theory about people creating their work inspired where they by grew up and being in touch with that place,” Reynolds explains. “So even if I was composing something set half a world away that somehow it still touches my roots." 

While Stout is a born-and-bred Texan, Reynolds has been living in the state for more than twenty years and so the pair wanted to tap into Stout’s roots and the Texas Reynolds has come to know for the musical score. 

Texas sounds big for one thing. It is grand and epic. There is big sky and big space especially in West Texas where DJ is from. And so I wanted to open with a big chord and let it sit there for a long time so you could feel that space, he says. 

He also utilised specific intervals and chords that are common in country music but not necessarily used in jazz, blues or rock. “I tried to build everything out of a minimal vocabulary that was based on country and Texan music,” he says.

They laid out a basic idea and then started getting together with Reynolds playing along to images that Stout collected and arranged. Together they honed the sequence and the whole arc of the piece.

Reynolds is no stranger to scoring somewhat unusual requests: “The presentation was quite unusual although I like doing unusual collaborations, so much so that unusual collaborations are normal for me. I’ve work with chefs and bartenders and people who drive trash trucks.”

With Forklift Danceworks, he scored and performed PowerUP, a performance piece featuring the employees and machinery of Austin Energy.  Accompanied by a string orchestra led by Austin Symphony Conductor Peter Bay featuring “digital violin" soloist Todd Reynolds, PowerUP showcased more than fifty linemen, electrical technicians and Austin Energy employees in a choreographed 90-minute dance with bucket trucks, cranes and field trucks.

In 2013 he also scored a performance piece involving 18 trash trucks Trash Dance with Forklift Danceworks, which has been subsequently been made into a documentary film of the same name that was release in theatres in 2013. 

On the more commercial side, he also recently created the score for the last in a popular film trilogy Before Midnight by Richard Linklater.  

The first two movies in the trilogy did not have a musical score at all and according to Reynolds his first order of business was “not to mess things up”.

A lot of the time he scores to picture right away but in this instance they first decided on a theme and the entire score was based on this.

“I read the script early on and Richard wanted a beautiful, classical-sounding theme; he wanted to set the bar high when he described it. I didn’t know what was in his head and so I created a bunch of themes, eventually narrowing it down to five that I sent to him and editor Sandra Adair,” he explains.

“The movie is very dialogue driven and so the music wanted a very light touch. The instrumentation is very simple, the theme is very simple and everything is kept stripped down,” he continues.

According to Reynolds, whether mainstream or avant garde, collaboration is critical to almost everything he does: “Collaborators pull you in directions that you would never dream of going on your own. So whether I am working with a choreographer or a chef or a graphic designer they have ideas that pull me out of whatever the boxes I am working in.”