Tone Setter

Graham Reyolds' A Scanner Darkly score

Tone Setter
Photo By Aubrey Edwards

An hour before the in-store, Waterloo Records' indoor bandstand is already crammed. Keyboards, drums, amplifiers, stand-up bass, and bassist leave room for the xylophone on the floor in front of the stage only. Graham Reynolds wonders how nine musicians are going to fit up there.

"Trouble is they have to bow and not jab each other," puzzles the local composer, his long hair, temporarily bobby-pinned at the ears, matching the long, straight lines of his face, lean frame, and red-stripe, marching-band pants he's wearing.

When the 30-minute mark arrives, a string quartet is mostly onstage, and at a quarter to the hour, the number of players hovers around eight. Even Reynolds is impressed.

"Except now we've got to wait 15 minutes," he grins, the mini-orchestra tuning up like a full-scale one. "Tune to the vibes," he instructs.

It's worth the wait. One day before the L.A. premiere of A Scanner Darkly, in the hot heart of its Austin birthplace, the man who scored the film leads sax, guitar, and the rest through a 30-minute inner sanctum of imagination and reverberation. Reynolds is his usual plucky, determined self, alternating between piano, drums, and letting his vibist conduct the band. A good-sized crowd, which includes sci-fi scholar Roky Erickson, smiles and nods as Philip K. Dick morphs from words into musical annotations. Richard Linklater's animated movie is visually absent but audibly hologramed. Strangely, Reynolds and company's live approximation sounds more like an actual soundtrack than the Scanner Darkly CD being released today. Atmospheric swaths are being sampled rather than ridden out.

A Scanner Darkly: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Lakeshore Records) creaks open like any Reynolds/Golden Arm Trio silent-film score at the Alamo Drafthouse, beats drum 'n' bass on "Aphids," and fades into a Santo & Johnny steel-guitar sunset on "Strawberry Pie." And that's only the first four tracks. Performing at Waterloo, Reynolds acknowledges the importance of sequencing the soundtrack independent of the film. Afterward, out back of Waterloo Ice House, he reiterates the point.

"Having artistic control makes a huge difference," nods Reynolds, due on the Left Coast the next morning. "I came back from L.A., from the final mix on the huge Warner Bros. lot and then spent two solid weeks taking the surround-sound mixes, pulling them down into stereo, and adapting them. We had a year and a half's worth of recordings to cull from and shape into an album. I was careful not to lose the feel of the film, but both Golden Arm Trio albums start with a short introductory piece, then have the full band track, so I did this one the same way. I used the same sort of approach."

A DIY lifetime of dishing out rock/jazz/classical music in rooms plush and punk, and of scoring ancient black-and-whites and accompanying all manner of stage work from opera to mime prepared Reynolds for A Scanner Darkly. His work for and with the Austin Film Society, theatre troupe Rude Mechanicals, and a stint as house band for "Funhouse Cinema" at the Ritz on Sixth Street drew Reynolds and Linklater into the same sphere and ultimately led to a collaboration on a Speed Levitch short. A gig playing jazz standards at the Zach Scott Theatre found Linklater backstage telling Reynolds about the sax score for Last Tango in Paris.

"It took a while for us to figure out which sound of what I do was going to work in what he was imagining," Reynolds chuckles.

The director sent the musician the Scanner Darkly script, which one of the film's eventual sound designers had prepared him for by being an avowed Philip K. Dick disciple when the two had roomed together years before. Reynolds understood the terrain.

"There's a tone to the book," says the avid reader and occasional Chronicle book reviewer. "One of the cues, 'Dark World Where I Dwell,' I did it early on, after we talked about the project. They liked it, and it stayed through the whole process, after so many other things got thrown away. It has a dark, low, strings quality. That could've been made to the book without seeing the film."

When the film's animation "began dribbling in," it was a different story.

"Well, yeah, because they didn't always tell me what was going to be drawn and what was missing. Like I forgot that the opening scene was going to have bugs. There's other places where things happen that I didn't know, and I scored it, and they're saying, 'This doesn't seem to match.' And I'm like, 'Doesn't match what?'

"And, of course, the Scanner suit, in live-action, they're just using gray sweatshirts and sweatpants, so you just had to use your imagination."

Use just that on the knowledge that an early test screening of A Scanner Darkly with an all-Radiohead soundtrack didn't rate as high as Reynolds' score, and that the film's recent Cannes debut found him and his girlfriend on a yacht in the Mediterranean with Al Green providing the entertainment. A Hollywood film agent, a New York booking agent, scoring Steve Collins' award-winning Gretchen (see p.54) and Alex Jones' documentary Terror Storm: Opportunity wears a Scanner Darkly suit.

"Nothing else comes close to the kind of exposure this will get," Reynolds agrees. "The album alone will be released in more places [than any of my other work], and the film itself will be around the world and on DVD for years to come – in more hands than I could possibly reach. The market for a Keanu Reeves film is far larger than any weird/avant/jazz/classical/rock – whatever it is that I normally do."

He laughs. "There's not a big market for that, so I'm trying to take all the momentum I can from this."

Graham Reynolds' A Scanner Darkly concert accompanies screenings of the film at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown, Friday, July 7, and Saturday, July 8.

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Golden Arm Trio, Graham Reynolds, A Scanner Darkly: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

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