Well, I am already in great pain from having to pinch myself so much this past week–We have Todd Reynolds on here today!
Yes, that guy that we know from having been a founding member of ETHEL, having been involved with both Steve Reich and Musicians and Bang On a Can, and has a side project with 2 of the BOAC All-Stars called Typical Music, did a duet onstage with Zoe Keating, and has a superb debut album titled Outerborough. That Todd Reynolds!
Todd had a few minutes to speak with me about his appearance at the Rite of Summer Festival on Governors Island on Monday, September 3rd at 1 PM and 3 PM with guests Jonny Rodgers, Jordan Tice and Matthias Kunzli. He had a little extra time for other things too!
CM: I just want to say this is an absolute pleasure! Thanks so much, Todd!
On the program of American folk tunes you are to play at Rite Of Summer, which ones can we expect to hear, and are you keeping these pieces mostly traditional or will there be more of a sonic edge to them?
Todd: Thanks, Chris, happy to be a contributor to your blog.
This program really features the music of two of my colleagues and the original sounds and concepts they bring to the table. Jordan Tice, who is known through his tours and CDs to be one of the more original composers and performers in American traditional music. Jonny Rodgers is an American original himself in his songs and in his incredible Glass-Harmonica work. Yes, that’s right–When was the last time you heard someone playing wine glasses, AND on a bluegrass program?
My desire for this event is to bring people together who’ve never played before with a mandate to explore all the sides that each brings to the table. Jordan is the bluegrass side, Jonny is the beautiful songwriting side, and Mathias, well, he just brings the perfect percussion seasoning to anything. It’s a very collaborative event.
In fact, I met Jonny and Mathias through my own collaboration with the great Sxip Shirey, and Jordan I met through Mike Block. Both Sxip and Mike have a long history of creating shows exactly like this–-explosions of creativity with friends, old and new, who speak the same basic musical language but with a multiplicity of dialect. A huge shoutout to them for introducing me to many of my recent friends over the past two years, and for their great work which I’ve been joyful to be a part of.
Jordan has brought some great tunes which I had never heard to the table–Irish, American, more. We’ll do a few of Jonny’s tunes as well, and you know me, there MUST be a little grassroots ‘improvisations from nothing’. Sonic Edge? Of COURSE there will be a little edge now and then, and a little electronic beauty too. It’s impossible for me to throw down without adding a little spice to the mix. If we do it right, the flavor of the steak will shine through brightly, though.
Todd Reynolds appearing with Jonny Rodgers and Sxip Shirey among others at Joe’s Pub, NY; 5/2/12
CM: I have to say that coming to know the music and the sound you have cultivated is amazing. Given that it seems worlds away from Jascha Heifetz and your years in the Rochester Phil, can you still hear where that music sort of leaves off, leading into the sound of the music you started?
Todd: Thank you for your kind words. It’s been a road, for sure, with many twists and turns. Somewhere long ago (longer than I’d like to recognize, lol) I came upon the notion that ‘if’ I were to take this road–expanding far beyond the classical music tradition–it would feel most right if it were to occur organically, without actually giving up one style to adopt another.
When I left the Rochester Philharmonic, I did so for one reason and one reason only. I had begun to feel the ‘find your own voice’ imperative. There was something, and I knew not what, that I wanted to contribute. Already I’d given my life to what we term ‘new music’, and I knew what I sought would extend beyond that as well, but whatever it was, it was not to be found while devoting my energy to concert-hall based classical music.
I’ve taken it as it comes, learning from doing, seeking out situations which would deepen and broaden my knowledge and experience. I guess my music and proclivities ended up being a result of that journey, and I hope it developed through the years enough to keep us all interested, myself included! There’s so much more to be done and enjoyed.
I don’t play a Sibelius violin concerto like I used to without a TON of hard work, but that sensibility is still in there somewhere, as well as the Bach Canon, which all us violin kids grew up with and still revere. I wouldn’t want it not to be. I don’t actually think about ‘the divide’ at all, it sort of doesn’t exist for me, and yours is the first question like that I’ve had in years, good on ya. It’s an interesting thing to think about.
CM: What do you think Jascha Heifetz would have said about your music now?
Todd: Actually, Mr. Heifetz is one of the biggest reasons that I do what I do. It’s much too long of a conversation to get into here with any depth, but suffice it to say that his encore arrangements of Porgy and Bess which we played incessantly back then, are ‘the’ reason that I thought maybe I could play the blues, or investigate jazz. When I went to my first jam session what did I play? “Summertime”. I Knew it like the back of my hand from all those times in studio playing it with piano in Mr. H’s imitable arrangement.
What would he have said? What would he think? Impossible to know. Jascha Heifetz was one of a kind with opinions and rigorously developed ideas which were rooted in his own time. Of course one always rejoices when a teacher is supportive. My beloved teacher from college, Joyce Robbins, is exactly that. If Mr. Heifetz were even able to make it through one track on my CD, I’d be THRILLED. Maybe in some other dimension we could answer this one.
Todd Reynolds: Beginner’s Mind (Metro Gallery, Baltimore, MD; 9/16/09)
CM: Outerborough is an amazing record, and it’s like 2 different albums with your compositions on one half and the varied composers’ pieces on the second half. Is your follow-up going to have a similar format?
Todd: I’m working on that right now. I’ve got three ideas on the table currently. One is indeed a two CD affair with a concept that is related to Outerborough, but developed further than Inside/Outside with regard to the collaborative method.
The other two ideas on the table need to sustain cover for a bit. Suffice it to say they both start with the letter ‘P’. That’s for Preachers and Percussion.
CM: What is the story behind the piece “Centrifuge” for the LEMUR guitarbot?
Todd: Eric Singer, the inventor of the LEMUR bots gave me the GuitarBot for a bit, in fact, we installed the ModBots and the GuitarBot in my living room up in North Adams, MA for about a year. “Centrifuge” was also part of a larger commission from the Albany Symphony for solo violin and bots. Terrific fun that was!
Centrifuge (Home video version)
“I hold Todd in very high admiration because he is not only an amazing violinist, but he is doing exactly what he wants to do in music. He’s at the point in his life where he has all the tools, and he’s chosen what he wants to focus on, which is that he likes to write, he knows what he wants to hear, he’s really into the whole ‘he’s a one-man band’ with his loops and able to run this to an impressive degree, in these shows. And I hope that one day I can be like that, and know what I want to do.”
Todd: [blushing] I’m a big Ashley fan, no doubt. We’re colleagues and friends and have worked together for quite a few years now. In fact, she’s commissioned me to write her a solo piece for her mic and Laptop! As a Bang on a Can All-Star, with Lisa Moore in Two Sense and as a solo artist, she’s already made herself busy creating a ton of new music, being of service to composers and the new music community with her commitment, creativity, and of course her phenomenal playing. She knows exactly what she’s doing and is poised to only expand her contribution. If that comes about through technology, I’ll be there to get behind her and push.
Technology has made the barrier to entry virtually nil. There is a path there for everyone who wants to deepen their creativity through composition or improvisation or alternative performance. I’m so happy to see colleagues doing great work and joining the ‘one man band’ field, as so many of us have found a voice there and will continue to.
It’s more about the intention than about the tech, however. Ableton Live, Max/MSP, hardware, software, they’re all simply tools, albeit the BEST working tools beyond a violin and a cello. That’s why I often end up referring to my expanded instrument as a ‘digital violin’. It’s a hybrid instrument concept that anyone can ‘build’ according to his/her own needs. The recording studio itself has become an instrument for all of us to ‘play’ and explore with. Twenty-two years ago, when I started working in the electronics corner, looping and processing, there WERE no laptops, we were doing it with hardware boxes like the Oberheim EDP, created by geniuses like Matthias Grob and Kim Flint. These days every musician carries with them a potential arsenal of sound creation in their bags everyday, with their laptop, iPhone or iPad!
Yes, as Ashley says, the potential is there to know and execute exactly what we want to do. Whether it’s commissioning music from others or creating your own, or (my favorite) a combo of both, the sky’s the limit! Doesn’t even matter which tools you use, it only matters that the focus is clear and joy in doing it is present, that you put in the time–and that it’s fun, or deep, but real, authentic, organic for both you and the audiences with whom you share it.
Todd performing with Ashley on cello (and Vicky Chow, piano) as Typical Music at Bang On a Can at MASS MoCA; 7/16/12
toddreynolds.com (Headquarters for all things Todd)