Part 1

Name: Graham Reynolds
Nationality: American
Occupation: film composer
Current Project: MXTX: A Cross Border Exchange on Six Degrees Records
Recommendations: Selected Poems of Su Tung-p'o” by Dongpo. Written during the Song Dynasty, these poems are intensely full of life, and offer a peek into the world of 11th century China. Dongpo was also active as a scholar, a calligrapher, and even as a chef / Villette by Charlotte Bronte

MXTX involves more than forty DJ-producers and composers from both sides of the Rio Grande and seeks to build musical, cultural, and social bridges through collective art making, community outreach, and live performances.

When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I started playing piano when I was five, inspired by my mother. She was taking lessons and I thought my mom was cool so I asked for lessons too. Even though I had many interests, they would come and go. Music was the one that kept sticking around.

Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?

Each listening experience is different for me. I don’t really hear colors or shapes, but it could be an emotional experience, an intellectual experience, a craftsperson’s experience, or any combination. It is usually partly conscious and partly subconscious. When composing or improvising, I like to take the context into account, including what kind of environment the listening will take place in and what kind of listening experience I can expect and plan for.

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

The most exciting thing for me is learning, whether in music or any other field. My interests are always evolving, and I try to look for some kind of challenge in every project. I don’t work consciously to create my own artistic voice any more than I consciously try to plan what my personality is. I hope that my personal experiences, musical and otherwise, lead to my music sounding like me.  

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.

I grew up collecting records from the cheap room at the back of the store, paying one dollar for each and getting as many as I could. I also had a radio shack cassette player. I would record off of my records and the radio and make mix tapes. In many ways, mix tapes feel like my roots more than any specific kind of music. When making mixtapes, and now playlists, I’ve always enjoyed extreme contrast. That tendency spills over into my music making.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

Try to make something I want to hear and share it with others. Surround myself with smart and talented collaborators. Try to learn something new with each project. Treat performance as a conversation with the audience and like any conversation, take what the other people are saying into account.

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

Perfection is not really a focus of mine. I like art with a balance of tight and loose, virtuosic and raw (think Jimi Hendrix). I also don’t expect my music to be timeless, as so little art is.  Instead I usually try to focus on what music I feel matches the moment we’re in.  

Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?

My first important tool was the piano, and it continues to play a key role. Second were drums.  And that was followed by recording tools. And finally, software. Today’s DAWs and notation software make my independent career possible in ways that didn’t exist before.

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.

I’m always working on many projects, usually a film or tv project, an album, a dance piece, a theater piece, concert music, etc., as well as running our non-profit Golden Hornet. So there isn’t really a typical day. When I’m home I work in the studio every day and dip into as many projects as I can. My weeks have more patterns than my days. For example, I try to stay screen and device free on Friday mornings.  

Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?

The first part of every process is to figure out the process. Almost everything I do is in some way collaborative, and since everyone works in different ways I try not to get dogmatic in my own approach. But some ideal rough phases in sequence: non-project specific experimentation, research, idea generation, feedback round one, idea editing and development, feedback round two, polishing and detailing, feedback round three, final touches.

Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?

I love both experiences, both as a creator and as a listener. Alone, I might be practising, or searching for ideas, developing material, or just playing for enjoyment. Communally, I think of the playing as a dialogue with the audience so the music changes quite a bit depending on the setting and the audience, different music sounds good in different spaces, and each audience responds differently. Sometimes you want to go deeply into a topic, sometimes you and the audience are ready to move on more quickly to the next topic.

How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?

Music has infinite and ever-changing roles. There are at least two very different sides, though they often complement each other. First, there’s personal, intimate expression and exploration. Most of us chose a life in music because we love sound and find creating it deeply satisfying. The flip side is our role in our community, including sharing our passion, building bridges, as well as exploring feelings, questions and issues in ways that words fail us. Finding a balance between the personal and the social can be central to a musician’s life.

Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?

The biggest topic that music addressed for me was (and is) what to do with my life. As a kid I was interested in pursuing many things, from being a history teacher to a scientist, and many more. But I kept coming back to music, nothing else was as consistent. Music is the biggest constant in my life.

There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other? 

I see science and music as deeply connected. We’ve done several cross-disciple projects with composers and scientists.  One was a Golden Hornet commissioned album and concert, pairing composers and a scientist of their choosing, writing for electronics and cellist Jeffrey Zeigler.  I’m currently working with Jeffrey and Susie Ibarra on an insect focused set of pieces, working with entomologists Alex Wild and Jo-Anne Holley.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

The line between art and craft is a blurry one. I would venture that “making a great cup of coffee” would lean towards craft with some artistry while music making leans towards art but with a deep well of craftspersonship, but it’s a dangerous game to define things like this too tightly. I hesitate to list anything that could be expressed exclusively through music.  

Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?

This is a challenging question! Music has been a part of every culture in human history, there is clearly a power there that is universal. But, what the source of that power is, remains mysterious, at least to me. Music’s ability to transmit emotions and ideas through an abstract art form is fascinating, opening questions about where in the spectrum response lie between culturally learned and naturally occurring.