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Sinfully Original

Todd Reynolds and Luke DuBois Bring Hybrid, Real-Time Art to
Santa Barbara

by Elizabeth Schwyzer

todd_reynolds.jpgWhen Todd Reynolds performs Still Life
with Mic, boundaries between art forms collapse. Spoken word,
movement, video, musical composition, and improvisation melt
together in a shifting array of visual and auditory input. It’s no
coincidence, then, that Still Life will be performed next week not
in a traditional theater or concert hall, but in an art
gallery.

Reynolds began his training as a classical musician but was soon
drawn to genre-bending experimentation. In 1990, he began playing
with pioneering minimalist Steve Reich and then joined the
experimental New York collective Bang on a Can. When I caught up
with Reynolds last week, we talked about his path, his influences,
and the effect of his current work.

You started out as a classical violinist. How did you move into
experimental electronic music? I grew up in L.A., where I studied
violin with Heifetz — the most famous violinist around at the time.
Then I came east to study. I ended up being someone who’s really
impacted by culture today and really interested in performing the
music of people who are alive. I’ve spent most of my life since age
20 playing contemporary music — jazz, computerized and
digital — especially inside the world of live, interactive
performance.

I also grew up in a fundamentalist religious background. That is
a type and quality of programming that is so strong that it takes
years to work yourself back into who you are. At 15 or 16, I was
preaching the gospel, but one day something really original came
into my head that had nothing to do with anything biblical. It was
the thought that everything is related, and everything is really
the same thing. It was my first original thought, and it really
blew me away.

At what point did you get involved with Steve Reich and Bang on
a Can? At SUNY Stony Brook, I began to get super-interested in
improvisation. I put on a big digital delay and a digital reverb,
and began to improvise and compose. I had played all the difficult,
uptown scene stuff, but I hadn’t played Steve Reich, though I knew
all his early works. Somehow, I wound up in his band. [John] Cage
and Reich remain my two biggest influences in classical music. They
taught me that everything is music. It would be a sin to me to say
of anything, “That’s not music!” Even somebody snoring can be
music.

In Still Life with Mic, you use sound painting to direct the
improvisation. What can you tell us about that technique and how it
has influenced your work? When I was at Stony Brook, I started to
go into the city to listen to music. I noticed Walter Thompson’s
band, and eventually he asked me to join them. He directed actors,
dancers, and musicians, all at the same time. No one else had
really done that yet — he was really crafting language. We had a
monthlong seminar on learning how to conduct sound painting, and I
placed myself in the position of associate to him. I loved doing
it.

How would you characterize the sound or the experience of Still
Life with Mic? You could call it avant-garde music; you could call
it jazz. Most people hear a lot of sound coming at them, and they
see a lot. They see a dynamic performer and a video screen. In the
solo version I’ll be performing in Santa Barbara, Luke DuBois will
be creating the video projections live on three screens. Things
will appear on the screens, like a sphere that stretches or changes
color and texture, as Luke makes subtle adjustments in response to
the things I’m playing. There’s no fourth wall; I talk to the
audience, like in a variety show. In a version where I’m using
other musicians and actors, I’ll sound paint the performers in
order to get music and events going, but then I can put whatever
they create on my violin and computer and make a completely
improvised performance piece that also has a form that’s already
designed — and it’s very fresh and alive every time.

I really want to present work where people can create their own
path through an event — you can pick your own way of navigating the
territory because there’s plenty of material to delve into, and
that material was made especially for you. I hate to sound all warm
and fuzzy, but really it’s all about love — because life is a
shared experience.

That’s quite a leap from original sin! That’s right. I started
in original sin. That’s not where I am now. It’s a totally
different life — a different way of seeing the world.

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