Richard Linklater's 2006 film adaptation of A Scanner Darkly — a jarring, rotoscope-animated view of the drug-addled future depicted by Philip K. Dick in his 1977 novel — opens with an unhinged cello theme that sets the tone for the wild ride to come. As each character wrestles with the onset of madness, the music gradually takes on the various states of a psychotic break — disjointed mania, paranoia, abject dread, and, finally, release. Composed by multi-instrumentalist Graham Reynolds, the film's score is another example of the visually suggestive music that Reynolds has crafted over the years with the ever-expanding aggregate of players he calls the Golden Arm Trio.
“One of the big things I got from Scanner was something I was interested in for a long time but had never invested in the equipment to do,” Reynolds says, “and that is processing or manipulating sound, either in the act or afterwards. That helped me gain the knowledge and the facility with processing that we were able to apply to some of the material on the latest Golden Arm Trio album.”
That album, The Tick-Tock Club (Rickety Fence, 2007), could be the soundtrack to an as-yet-unmade film. Based on ideas inspired by the music of Shostakovich, the album turns on a dime between avant-classical (“Dmitri Dmitryevich”) and cool gangster jazz (“20 Million Ways to Die in Chicago”) with all the subtlety of a right hook to the jaw, but with keen attention paid to live musicianship, sonic textures, and experimentation.
“Throughout the making of the album, we were recording all these chunks,” Reynolds says. “Some of them were recorded with the intent of being assembled into one track, but there were also montage tracks that were made with chunks either of other tracks, or discarded takes, or variations on elements from other sessions, and then pieced together collage-style into one sonic unit.”
“He Lies Like an Eyewitness” contains the results of what Reynolds refers to as “sound hunts,” where he goes around capturing found sounds using an Edirol R-09 handheld recorder and Earthworks mics. He combined the sounds with a vibraphone-like drone that he stumbled onto when his MOTU 896HD interface — which he uses along with Digital Performer — decided one day to go haywire. “There was this horrendous sound coming out of it that was just killing the speakers,” he says, “but my first instinct was to record it. We basically took out the top half of the frequency spectrum, so you ended up with this really full, intense drone.”
Although Reynolds is meticulous about how he records acoustic instruments, he never wants to constrain the musicians with such things as a chart or a click track. For the up-tempo car-chase-like mood of “Disco,” for example, a MIDI-based piano part generated using Sibelius software was the main accompaniment for most of the track's session history.
“The actual piano was one of the last things to go on there because I tend to speed up,” Reynolds confides. “If you're playing inside a band and holding tight, then it's a lot easier to stay steady — it's a lot more of a natural-sounding steady, too. You can still push and pull, but it doesn't make the piece dissolve. That live feel has always been important to me when we're making this music.”
THE TICK-TOCK CLUB
Home base: Austin, Texas
Main software: MOTU Digital Performer, Audio Ease Altiverb 6, Sibelius 4
“Sound-hunting” gear: Edirol R-09 recorder, Earthworks mics
Web site: www.goldenarmtrio.net