Live music and A Scanner Darkly

On Thursday night (Aug. 3), Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar is reprising its special screening of A Scanner Darkly with a live performance of excerpts from the score beforehand. Graham Reynolds, the film's composer, isn't just sitting in a dark corner with a guitar or keyboard. When I attended the previous sold-out event a couple of weeks ago, Reynolds was part of an nine-piece band that included a number of stringed instruments, guitars, a keyboard and a xylophone. I wish I'd taken pictures, but it was too dark in the theater even when the movie wasn't playing -- Chris Garcia managed to snap one and posted it to Austin Movie Blog.

The half-hour set took place before the movie and included four longish pieces: the "bug" music during the opening credits; what Reynolds called the "hallway" music (noting that the movie contains many scenes where people walk down hallways) and the background music from the diner scene; music from the scene in Donna's apartment and the subsequent scene in Arctor's bedroom; and what Reynolds called the "Room 203" and "freeway" music. He was very good about describing where the music fit in without giving away any key plot elements.

The first time Reynolds referred to one of the lead actors in the film, he called him "Kanunu." He caught himself when the audience made an odd reaction noise, and explained that the musicians had all taken to callin him "Kanunu" for no good reason. (I like discovering that most people aren't any more mature than I am.)

Reynolds told us that some of the excerpts from the score had not been performed with all the instruments simultaneously until the band started rehearsing for these performances. Often, different instruments were laid on the soundtrack separately, so Reynolds himself had not heard a live version of how the instruments sounded all together.

After the movie (which I enjoyed even more the second time, although my husband found the rotoscoping technique too distracting), Reynolds talked a little about scoring A Scanner Darkly and answered some questions. He noted that he had a longer period of time to score the movie than composers usually get, because the movie took so long to animate after the live-action version was shot. Director Richard Linklater rarely works with a composer, often preferring to use existing source music, but he would show up at Reynolds' home and talk about what he wanted from the score.

Reynolds also cleared up the weird controversy about the soundtrack that hit the news earlier this year. You might remember rumors flying that the soundtrack had done poorly in test screenings and that Radiohead was going to record a new soundtrack instead. I had been wondering what the real story was. The composer told us that "some marketing person thought it would be cool to have Radiohead do the music, but it turned out they were busy." Meanwhile, several temporary mixes of the soundtrack were used at test screenings -- some were Reynolds' work, some used Radiohead's music. Luckily for Reynolds, the Radiohead score didn't test well and he was able to finish his work on the film.

"I was kind of fired and I didn't know, and then I was kind of rehired and I didn't know that either," Reynolds told the audience.

He remembered fondly going to Cannes for the premiere of A Scanner Darkly and attending the gigantic premiere party there, where the house band turned out to be Al Green.

Other films Reynolds has scored recently include Gretchen and Terrorstorm. His music was also included on the soundtrack of Nobelity. I've also heard him accompany various silent films that screen as part of Austin Film Society series and other events. Reynolds has a Web site listing his upcoming performances ... but be warned, it does play music automatically (at least it's good music).

Tickets are still available for Thursday night's music-and-movie event at Alamo South Lamar. It's definitely worth the slightly higher ticket price.