Sounds Heard: Todd Reynolds—Outerborough
Paul de Jong: cello
Ken Thomson: bass clarinet
Kid Beyond: vocals/samples
GuitarBot of LEMUR
If you’ve ever seen violinist and composer Todd Reynolds perform live, you are aware of the “one-man band” aspect of his work. Surrounded by computers, mixers, cables, and foot controller pedals aplenty—not to mention the likelihood of video, and possibly even robots—Reynolds creates a musical experience that one might only expect from a much larger ensemble. The audience is treated to a relaxed, friendly demeanor that is at the same time intensely focused on the musical performance at hand, which, given that Reynolds is dedicated to incorporating improvisation into his work, will also be full of musical elements unique to that particular chunk of time and space.
Whether he is performing his own compositions or those written by others specifically for him, it is clear that his musical interests are extremely varied, reaching beyond his classical training toward raga, electronic, jazz, rock and folk music to name a few. With his new Innova double-cd Outerborough, the listener is invited to browse inside one musician’s varied logbook of musical experiences, both internal and external.
The first disc, titled InSide, is dedicated to compositions by Reynolds himself, while the other, OutSide, features works written for Reynolds by other composers. InSide reveals the previously mentioned store of musical inspirations, ranging from the thumping beatbox sounds, sampled yells, and searing electric guitar of Transamerica, to the gently pulsing pizzicato violin loops and tamboura drones of The Solution, or the lovely re-interpretation of a holiday classic, Icy Sleeves of Green v.2.0. Scurrying sixteenth-note loop beds of Taskforce: Farmlab, commissioned by choreographer Stephen Koplowitz, combine with intertwined arco violin lines to create a lush rhythmic atmosphere well-suited to its intended use for dance. The ornery, in-your-face Centrifuge represents one section of a larger work for the Albany Symphony’s Dogs of Desire, performed by the GuitarBot of The League of Musical Urban Robots (LEMUR). Its metallic frenzy contrasts sharply with the dark, singing End of Days for multi-tracked viola. The title track, Outerborough, sports urgent, pulsing loops of violin, kick drum, and voice underneath sustained violin glissandi, periodically spiraling to frenzied climaxes and then settling back into the primary groove.
With the disc OutSide, the listener discovers another sphere of musical influence—that of the composers with whom Reynolds has collaborated over the past several years. On most of this disc the composers share the production role with Reynolds, each revealing a personal approach to sound manipulation and mixing. Phil Kline’s A Needle Pulling Fred begins delicately with sparse contrapuntal violin lines, and gradually intensifies with lower tremolos and percussive sonorities. Tree-oh is classic Michael Gordon minimalism—serrated lines multiplying, dividing, and ultimately subtracting back to the initial beginning riff. Also of a related stylistic camp are Ken Thomson, who joins Reynolds on bass clarinet for his piece Storm Drain, and David Lang, whose fiercely pounding work Killer closes the disc. Fast Pasture by Nick Zammuto of the Books is the most synth-oriented of the lot—a violin’s jaunt through a forest of Max/MSP adventures.
Inward bound by Paul de Jong (who joins Reynolds on cello for this track) has a “Bookish” sensibility—apropo, as he is the other half of the Books—with an everything-but-the kitchen-sink feel that includes stuttering sonic textures, jump-cutting, and thickly overlaid surfaces. An infectious rhythmic track joined by old recordings of Robert Johnson and Reynolds switching into “fiddle” mode open Michael Lowenstern’s Crossroads. These elements, combined with low synthesized kick drums more often found in techno music, make for an arresting hybrid mix.
Two works on the OutSide disc pair Reynolds with spoken word. And the sky was still there by David T. Little recounts the experiences of a soldier wrestling with the impersonal nature of the army and with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The taped voice, processed in various ways throughout the piece, is accompanied by bubbling synthesizer lines, and Reynolds’ violin adds dramatic support for the engaging story as it unfolds. We hear Reynolds’ speaking voice at the opening of Paula Matthusen’s The End of An Orange, as he recites a text about questioning one’s memory, written by Abi Basch. Text and violin sounds are re-sampled and granulated to create a seamless flow between live and recorded elements.
No matter in what order you choose to listen to these discs—or even mix and match compositions from each—you are in for an absorbing variety of music that illustrates the multifaceted career of a performer, composer and improviser.