Before Midnight, the final film in a trilogy that has narrated a nearly 20-year relationship between director Richard Linklater’s characters Celine and Jesse, hits theaters today. Giving those characters a musical voice for the first time was Linklater’s collaborator, Austin-based composer Graham Reynolds. The result is a musical world consisting of piano, upright bass, acoustic guitar and a bit of vibraphone that expertly compliments the journey through the film.
Reynolds was kind enough to answer some questions about his score and collaboration from his studio in Austin.
Before Midnight is the first film in the trilogy to incorporate score. How did that affect your process in writing music for the film?
It made me be very careful. This was already a rich, complete world. The first two films didn’t suffer for lack of score so my first priority was to not mess anything up and to not get in the way. Delicacy and intimacy were the goals.
What went into creating themes and motifs for characters that have existed for almost two decades? Did you watch the previous two films and did that help in the process?
I did re-watch the first two films. I love to have my head living in the world of a project so that ideas incubate unconsciously. Ideally by the time I sat down to compose, ideas come out fluidly.
In this film, Jesse and Celine reconnect in Greece. What flavors and cultural sounds did you incorporate into the score?
Almost none at all. We discussed the options of adding Greek instruments or scales and none of that seemed like it would help the film. I focused instead on the relationship which is at the heart of all three films.
Was this collaboration with director Richard Linklater different from any of the previous? What keeps your relationship fresh?
Each collaboration with Richard has been very different in terms of style, genre, instrumentation, etc. But the working relationship continues to develop and communication gets easier. Doing the Hulu TV series Up to Speed last year really helped get things into gear as ideas had to be brought to full realization very quickly. It’s like being in a band – the longer you play together the tighter you get, and as long as you keep pushing yourself and takes risks, freshness takes care of itself.
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How do you handle being a “Hollywood Composer” based in Austin, TX? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of being so far from Hollywood?
Disadvantages are the more limited pool of contacts, fewer films needing scores and relative lack of industry infrastructure. Advantages are everything else. You spend less time getting from place to place and more time creating art. Costs are way down, so the artistic possibilities are comparably endless. If I want to do something here, I can make it happen.
What can you tell us about the current state of the Austin music scene?
Austin the city and Austin the music scene are in a similar place. Both have exploded in the national and international eye, and the result is a massive population increase. Maintaining the character of the city and its music while growing in a healthy way is the challenge. So far, so good, but it’s risky territory.
You compose, perform and record music for films, ballets, theatre productions, bands and live orchestras. How do you balance these diverse opportunities and in which medium do you feel most at home?
I feel most at home when I have multiple projects going at once and they’re all radically different. I find that I learn from each one and they only support and feed the others. I don’t see giving up any of it. As long as I’m growing and learning, I’m happy.
Why did you become a member of ASCAP and how has ASCAP played a role in your career?
I joined ASCAP when I did my first feature, The Journeyman. It was transformational. I love being part of ASCAP, and there’s nothing like a royalty check!
Called “the quintessential modern composer” by the London Independent, Austin-based composer-bandleader Graham Reynolds creates, performs and records music for film, theater, dance, rock clubs and concert halls with collaborators ranging from Richard Linklater and Jack Black to DJ Spooky and Ballet Austin. Heard throughout the world in films, on TV, on stage and on radio from HBO to Showtime, Cannes Film Festival to the Kennedy Center, and BBC to NPR, he recently scored “Bernie” featuring Jack Black as well as the Hulu TV series Up to Speed, and his score to the Robert Downey, Jr. feature A Scanner Darkly was named Best Soundtrack of the Decade by Cinema Retro magazine. With Golden Arm Trio, Reynolds has repeatedly toured the country and released five critically acclaimed albums including the simultaneous release of The Difference Engine: A Triple Concerto and DUKE! Three Portraits of Ellington on Innova Records with distribution by Naxos, the world’s biggest classical label. As Co-Artistic Director of the 501(c)3 Golden Hornet Project with Peter Stopschinski, Reynolds has produced more than fifty concerts of world premiere alt-classical music by more than sixty composers, as well as five symphonies, two concertos and countless chamber pieces of his own. With Forklift Danceworks, Reynolds has scored pieces involving 18 trash trucks, 200 two-steppers and a solo piece for traffic cop. Graham is an active company member, sound designer, and composer with the internationally acclaimed Rude Mechanicals and resident composer with Salvage Vanguard Theater.
Other achievements include the Lowe Music Theater Award, four Austin Critic’s Table Awards, the John Bustin Award for Conspicuous Versatility, an AMP Award, five Austin Chronicle Best Composer wins, the B. Iden Payne Award, Meet the Composer and MAP grants as well as support from the National Endowment for the Arts for several projects.
For more information, visit www.grahamreynolds.com.