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An Interview with Graham Reynolds on The Sound Of Science

Khristián Méndez Aguirre interviews Graham Reynolds on the Fusebox Festival performance of The Sound Of Science; a result of his collaboration with Golden Hornet and Jeffrey Zeigler.

Photo Credit: Amanda Winkles

KMA: Tell me more about the aspect of inquiry that you see as a meeting point for arts and sciences:

GR: Every [disciplinary] field has an aspect of inquiry, particularly when thinking about new work. The practitioners ask a question or pose a theory and pursue it, and multiple fields meet in an abstract “why” goal. But the close up practices, they’re very different. This wasn’t the case for a long time, artists and scientists were not separate the way we separate them today. Especially in the 20th century we got to a point where knowledge became more and more separated. An example from music: Composers used to be performers. But once recording technology came along, both aspects of music became more specialized.


KMA: It’s really enriching to think about inquiry as driving disciplines, but then technology leading towards specialization. I’m curious about your experience trying to bridge them. In attempting to cross these divisions as a musician, were there any avenues of the project that challenged your preconceived notions about science?

GR: [The project] didn’t necessarily challenge my notions of science, perhaps it expanded them. I wasn’t how aware of how tightly specialized not only the scientist I was working with, but her whole team, were. She’s not the only scientist of the world studying the hippocampus, and yet it is such a focused practice. Focusing was something that I tried to avoid in my career. So it’s fascinating to me to see someone with that approach to their own work.


KMA: What about working with the other composers?

GR: Maybe one thing that surprised me was how differently each person approached the task. And how it became really personal. Everyone had their own relationship with science and with art and music. For example, Maja [S. K Ratkje] composed inspired by her mother. I thought it was likely that some people would do scientists who had passed away, but the degree to which the choice was so personal was surprising. It wasn’t a general interest that they’d always had, but a strongly personal collection.


KMA: Right, we always think of the products of science as being out there in the world, but not really living in any specific place or person. It’s then surprising that we might have a personal connection to it, and yet it makes perfect sense.

Let’s talk about the pieces themselves, I really responded to Salumba and to Radiation in Moderation. It perhaps has to do with my taste, but I’m curious about your approach to the music itself.

GR: You know, it’s a lot of music. Eight pieces that are about 8 minutes each, and some of them are longer. I find that when I’m reading my mind goes off on a tangent inspired by what I’m reading and then I have to bring myself to it. Every time I listen to the entire concert or the entire album I find little pockets that I hadn’t listened to before just like it happens when I read something. One day, Sarah’s piece is really speaking to me. On another day, Yuka’s piece strikes me as live and beautiful. Each in turn has a place where it became central on each listening session.


KMA: That’s interesting to hear, because you must be so familiar with the pieces. How many times have you heard Jeffrey play it live?

GR: 6 times. And then all the way through in concert. We’ve done shorter concerts, and then I’ve seen rehearsal.


KMA: To your musically trained ears, it must be such different experience to listen to the recording versus the live performance. I was really happy when I found the album on Spotify after attending the concert, but it eventually replaced most of my memories of the concert. Do you have any thoughts on that?

GR: To me, live performance and recorded performance are two different forms. It’s like with theatre and film: they’re understood as different mediums. A live theatre performance rarely translates well to video, and not all film translates into compelling theatre. It’s the same thing in music where listening to a recording is different from live performance. The album is not the same in the dark with headphones, compared to when Jeffrey performs it. I find rewards both ways.

I have noticed that there’s nothing that anchors your sight when you’re playing the album by yourself. In the live version, your eyes get to watching him, and that makes it easier to hear details in the music because you see the physical motion. Also because there’s the video content and graphic narrative content, you have the visual association.


KMA: Actually, where did the visuals come from?

GR: We knew there was going to be a screen involved, so the composers had the option of adding visual elements to their piece. Three or four of the pieces have videos, and then the rest have a graphic design element. Putting extra-musical associations against instrumental music is something that some composers have resisted. Much of classical music has, Beethoven is a prime example. I see the advantages in resisting visuals, but I also find that they give people a doorway into listening when they are not in the habit of listening for so long. Everyone has the freedom to enter them. You can think of them geographically, for example, or by their disciplines.

Watching Jeffrey play the cello is an amazing experience, but sitting in the same place for one hour and twenty minutes is eventually going to feel long. The visuals can help people stay focused. It also gives them a reminder of what science the piece is associated with. I really have to say that Kate Murray’s graphic design –the logo and each of the images for the pieces– her visual world shaped the whole experience.

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