"Play It Like It's Music" by Trevor Exter
Play It Like It's Music
"We serve the public by digging down into something that's beyond words."

"We serve the public by digging down into something that's beyond words."

007 Todd Reynolds



Trevor Exter: What do you got?


Trevor Exter: Great, you got the gig!  Love it.

Todd Reynolds: Well, that's fun.  This is not gear I work with man, this is really funny. It's just really nice....


Trevor Exter: Welcome to play it like its music, shop talk with working players.  Especially today, today, we got Todd Reynolds, who in full disclosure is one of my best friends: violin player and also champion of all things digital music. He's got major cred, he actually studied with Jascha Heifetz, at age 20 he played principal second violin for the Rochester Philharmonic, then went on to work with Steve Reich, Meredith Monk, Joe Jackson, Todd Rundgren, the Mahavishnu Project... he founded the string quartet you might have heard of called Ethel.  Whether he's on Broadway or in Bang On A Can he kills it every time, I went to his house in Massachusetts.

Hey, how's everything? Oh my God look at this place!

Todd Reynolds: Hey buddy! How are you?

Trevor Exter: So do me a favor, state your name and instrument.

Todd Reynolds: I'm Todd Reynolds, and I play the violin

Trevor Exter: And a few other things right?

Todd Reynolds: A few other things, the laptop, the guitar, the bass, the modular synth... god what else is in here?

Trevor Exter: What's in this big black box here?

Todd Reynolds: This is a modular synth.

Trevor Exter: Oh, that's your eurorack? Take me on a tour of this room will you?

Todd Reynolds: On this [00:03:00] room sure yeah, this is my studio, actually this is the master bedroom in our house. We are currently staying in the guest bedroom because I haven't built the studio downstairs where it actually belongs. These two chairs right here and a sort of step stool with the tiger on it is... Tiger print on it...

Trevor Exter: Oh, made by Fender, yeah.

Todd Reynolds: these two things are going to be in the in the studio when it gets built, but anyway that's the Earth out there, and the land, and the trees, and here... Tables here, God there's nothing interesting in this corner of the room, why don't we shift focus?

Trevor Exter: Talk to me about the gear.

Todd Reynolds: Here's a drum kit to my right and then over there you've got a little note, just a bunch of midi controllers, the Maschine, Native Instruments maschine studio, and a Novation controller, and some Genelec speakers and monitors,

Trevor Exter: Wait hang on, stop stop stop stop. I've known you for twenty years.

Todd Reynolds: Yeah

Trevor Exter: and you have never not had a fascinating array of gear and stuff on every surface, this is the visual that I'm used to with you, and what you just did was you either pointed off to the side at the chairs or the Earth, or you told me the model number and make of every individual thing and that would have taken forever. Let's try to split the difference.

Todd Reynolds: It's true. It's true

Trevor Exter: 30 second description of all this.

Todd Reynolds: oK batteries, canjira, little Indian frame drum which I studied with a teacher in South India, and detritus, detritus, couple of extra sets of headphones that will eventually be employed, a machinist cabinet, if you don't know what those are, look them up, you can find them up here in North Adams all over the place in the antique stores, they're sort of beautiful wooden cabinets with drawers that machinists used to use to carry their tools. Cables, cables, more cables, detritus, amps, violas, violins, octave violin, two guitars, my CDs, detritus, an OP-1, Keith McMillen instruments QuNeo, I use all of their gear...

Trevor Exter: Oh, this is awesome, got some good sets of headphones right there's

Todd Reynolds: there's a [00:05:00] theremin over there, and in this bag is the kind of the esoteric wonderful stuff.  These are instruments that I love by Brian Crabtree, it's a company called Monome.  MONOME.org and check that out. Yeah by this time they're making all sorts of great modular synth stuff, but they really invented as a company. They invented this grid and the Arc which were their main first two instruments and their bi-directional, which means that you can light them up by instructions from software, or you can control the software there are so programmable and to my mind, it's their influence that made a lot of these controllers that we use now... everything from maschine to launch pads to everything...

Trevor Exter: don't worry, this is all going to be fascinating for our audience

Todd Reynolds: it's true.


[00:06:00] It's an unusual thing for me to talk about gear, for the first time in my life I feel a little uncomfortable about it.

Trevor Exter: But you just did all right with that though.

Todd Reynolds: Oh no, no no I'm all good with it, but when you first asked me about it I'm all like, uhh here are my chairs and it feels a little stupid, I want to tell you about the Buddha on the wall.

Trevor Exter: We're all trying to find the truth.

Todd Reynolds: Right? There It is it's called samanta bhadra Buddha. I have been a gearhead for all this time and over the past maybe even five years, I just kind of stopped buying gear. I stopped trying to have the [00:07:00] latest and greatest, I did buy a couple of things that were really important to me, a couple things that I'd never done before like this, like this drum kit that you see here.

Trevor Exter: Yeah, but you and I both know, music gearheads who have to have like every latest greatest thing in their studio, and they don't do anything with that stuff, but you do a lot of stuff with your stuff. This is not a collection. It's clearly just been brought back from a show and it's about to get packed up to go to another gig. What's your process around choosing stuff to work with and choosing what to do with it?

Todd Reynolds: I think probably at the center of everything for me is software, when I first started doing electronic music, it was a couple of lexicon lxp 1'S, and lxp 5's, these wonderful effects processors back in 1990. And then you know I knew it would all be someday in a computer, in a laptop, and when that happened, Ableton Live 2.0, that's where I kind of found my home. That's where I found my software partner in life, so everything's based around.

Trevor Exter: 2.0, which is like a dozen iterations. How many, what are they on now?

Todd Reynolds: 15 years ago? Yeah We're in nine seven right now right, so we're like [00:08:00] anxiously awaiting 10 at some point.

Trevor Exter: Nine was pretty hip when it came out

Todd Reynolds: nine changed everything, as did the Ableton pushed and their second iteration of that, so I've got that, it's not out right now because it's, as you say in the bag from a gig, but all things that I use are all in some way or other, being interfaced into Ableton, they're all plugins in Ableton. So whether it's Native Instruments stuff, or the new Eventide plugins, they're not so new anymore, but see that Eventide Orville over there, man when those things came out, that was like a four thousand dollar piece of kit, it's like two digital signal processing units governed by a third one right? So it's a heavy piece of kit, it's a really beautiful sound and now plugins do all the work, all those algorithms are in plugins now, so I use those a lot, I just keep that around kind of just for safekeeping, and I don't think I'll ever give it away, but now it's more about mic's and preamps, and looking for sound in that way and really the modular synth for me was kind of a breakout thing because that craze started about twnety years ago, and I missed it. I wasn't interested. I was not interested [00:09:00] in synthesized sound at all.


Trevor Exter: Before you had all this other stuff you played violin from a very young age. When did you first pick up the violin?

Todd Reynolds: When I was, like five days before I hit five years old.

Trevor Exter: Like you were a brain stem at that point

Todd Reynolds: basically.

Trevor Exter: Right tell me about [00:10:00] the meanest thing you ever heard, Jascha Heifetz say in a lesson.

Todd Reynolds: Oh God. Nothing sticks out to me.

Trevor Exter: He wasn't that mean was he?

Todd Reynolds: He was, he was, let's say he was not generous. I mean he wasn't generous with his effusive manner of kindness no. Mister Heifetz with good reason was a severe man. The thing I think is probably best to tell you is that we would all walk into class so we had like a roster of things that had to be prepared, all violin stuff, you know. And everybody had to be prepared with these five things.

Trevor Exter: You're what age at this point?

Todd Reynolds: I'm 18, we had to come in with all of the major and minor harmonic and melodic scales, in thirds... sixths, octaves, fingered octaves, and thirds. Those all had to be prepared, you know? And of course a G flat fingering is different than an F sharp fingering, in terms of keys, and so we'd have to do that and a couple of movements of the Bach, unaccompanied solo Sonata stuff, and then an encore piece that mr. Heifetz had written or transcribed, a Paganini Caprice, [00:11:00] one of these virtuosic things, a movement from a major violin concerto. This is you know, this is the basic repertoire for - and a showpiece, you know? This is the basic repertoire for any violinist, so we all had to be prepared. So then he would basically randomly say okay, 'you get up play', and we would play, and within maybe sometimes for me, within 30 seconds 40 seconds, he would be

Trevor Exter:  you got thirty seconds into stuff?

Todd Reynolds: I did, he would say 'not ready, sit down' and this happened so repeatedly 'not ready, sit down'. So there was that, you know? We would always try to get as far as we could, you know? Yeah he was, he could be severe, he could also be kind and sometimes he could be severe, realizing he had been severe, and then be kind. You know? So a lot of depth to that man, a lot of depth, I learned... everything.

Trevor Exter: you were with him from what age to what age?

Todd Reynolds: I'd say probably around like the beginning of 17, all the way to like 19, I believe. It was just around two years, little bit over two years.


Trevor Exter: at what point did you decide to become a professional?

Todd Reynolds: Probably when I went to college. All my life growing up, the violin was sort of what I did, it gave me purpose, you know? It was a great show and tell thing when I was in elementary school. I played in church a lot with my dad, when I actually decided to go to school, like to college, get out of the house and go to college, I think probably within the first year of that I was thinking of myself as a professional. I was playing as a professional before I left LA. I was in the studio scene, starting from when I was 17. You know, I was sort of starting to play TV shows, Star Trek, Simpsons, stuff like that.

Trevor Exter: you grew up in Los Angeles, and you don't work much in LA at all.

Todd Reynolds: I don't work in LA at all no.

Trevor Exter: But you know your way around LA like a native...

Todd Reynolds: right. well because, yeah because that's kind of what I am. I did work in LA before I left, and in fact that's one of the reasons that I ended up taking the path that I took. Like shortly before I left for Eastman, I was asked to do a gig for a group of six composers. It was like “composers in [00:13:00] Red Sneakers” or something like that, I'm not sure what it was. I met this composer there named Jake Hagie, and he writes operas and stuff now and Jake and I knew each other back then, I played his music. And I remember having the experience of playing his Piano Trio, and his string quartet. I was like wow man! I didn't realize that composers were like, this this is like classical music, but it's written today, you know? I can't believe I was so naive about all that stuff, but I was. And then when I got to Eastman they put me in a room, in a dorm room with a composer, and it was all over. Within a year I kind of decided that I didn't really care about anything in classical music. I didn't care about repeating the past, I cared about creating the future, and that was a fairly big deal.

Trevor Exter: I remember when I saw in your bio, like when we, right around the time we first met, that you had been in the Rochester Philharmonic, like principal second violin or something. How long did you keep that gig?

Todd Reynolds: I think that was about three years too, two and a half

Trevor Exter: This is like right out of college you got a major orchestra gig?

Todd Reynolds: Kind of not even like that. It was Eastman [00:14:00] School of Music, to its credit, had this program where while you were in school, in a bachelor's degree program you could go take a little audition with the Rochester, Philharmonic, and they would pay you 250 bucks a week to sit in the very back of the second violin section, you had to buy tails, you had to buy your own tails, that's the only requirement. Otherwise they would let you sit in the back of the second violin section. So I did that, and I made friends with people because I like people, so at one point Abe Lillard, the principal trumpet, came up to me and said, “you know I was a little surprised not to see your name up on the list for the audition on Wednesday.” I said “what I audition on Wednesday?” So I went to look and there was this principal second violin audition, and I was kinda flummoxed. You know the guy might have been just having me on, he just kind of might have been kidding me, but I went... This was like a Friday, I went down to the library, music library, for the Rochester Philharmonic. I grabbed all the records that they had ever made of Symphonies out of the library. I went home and for the first time I'd ever done this I put them on the record player, [00:15:00] yeah, it was a record player, and I basically played along with all the solos, and with all their recordings, and I won the audition. I was in my third year at Eastman, in the middle of it. So I began my fourth year not going to school, but being in the orchestra, and I was in the orchestra for two-and-a-half years and when I left the orchestra they wouldn't give me my degree, they required I like stay there for another year, and that would have been weird and I was already, my mind was in New York.

Trevor Exter: So you're a dropout!

Todd Reynolds: I'm a Dropout. I'm a College Dropout, accept that this wonderful institution called the State University of New York at Stony Brook, on Long Island, gave me my master's degree without a bachelor's, based upon precedent and experience. You know work experience, so I do have a master's degree Thank God.

Trevor Exter: I'm fresh out of honorary doctorates, but I had a couple in my wallet, I'll refresh that and get one to you later.

Todd Reynolds: Thank you

Trevor Exter: so yeah, new music, new composers, you are friends with a lot of new composers, this is like a huge part of your life is playing really championing new music

Todd Reynolds: yes

Trevor Exter: that's a big part of your brand let's say.

Todd Reynolds: It's a big part of my brand.

Trevor Exter: I'm gonna edit this out because we don't talk about brands on this podcast.

Todd Reynolds: Okay. It's a, it's definitely, it has been the foundation of my adult life, let's say that. What's interesting about how everything morphed, is that when I began playing what we all call 'new music', I mean it's, I'm always so disappointed with every term, you know all of a sudden it's Indy-classical, or Avant-classical, or whatever, or post-classical. You know, it's kinda hard. I've worked at my own definitions of stuff, but we don't need to go into that now, but, as I started in this sort of “area” of new music I was only interested in the hardcore Western European avant-garde, these are names like Lygeti and Xenackis and Carter and Babbitt. American composers like Warren and Babbitt and Davidovski. And, you know this is what I was interested in, was the most difficult [00:17:00] stuff, and I wanted to make music out of it, and I did that for years, and then I got involved with Steve Reich, the composer from the sixties and seventies along with Philip Glass and Terry Riley, they were sort of the fathers of minimalism.

Trevor Exter: Anyone who listens to this already knows who they are.

Todd Reynolds: great!


So when I got into Steve Reich's band, I began to realize that my world was way, way, way [00:18:00] too small. And I began to say well, you know if I'm really interested in this stuff, then, you know, what did Steve study? And Steve studied ewe drumming in Ghana, and also gamelan, Indonesian gamelan.  So I'm like well, okay, well if he did that, then that's what I should do to, you just as a responsible new musician, so I started doing that

Trevor Exter: Or just a member of the band

Todd Reynolds: ah kind of, but the way that Steve's Music runs is its all on the page, and he's a very, very classical composer, there's no improvisation or anything. That's like, one of the things that's amazing about Steve, is he has written music that if you play the full note values and basically play what's on the page, it will sound the same. I don't care what band you are, there's not a lot of difference in performances of Steve Reich's music, right? There might be energy levels, but there's not a lot of room for interpretation, he's kind of amazing and Brilliant, and making something that clear

Trevor Exter: That's why the remixers love him, right?

Todd Reynolds: yeah, [00:19:00] well, I think there's unlimited reasons for the remixers or anybody to love Steve Reich, so that's, that's my take on him. He doesn't really carry his band anymore and a lot of it is because everybody really plays his music beautifully, so it's just... And I think as you get older as a composer you want to, you want to concentrate on composing, not necessarily that. On the other hand Philip Glass still tours only with his band. Everybody plays his music too, but he still takes his band out all the time.

Trevor Exter: Just depends on how much you like to do that

Todd Reynolds: yeah, I think that's, I think that's part of it. I think it's just how the two of them developed. I mean they developed in such different spheres and with such different trajectories over time.



Trevor Exter: What about you, like how much do you prefer to remain at home working creatively, versus out on the road performing in public?

Todd Reynolds: Right now, I would love to be home 60/40, but I spent most of my life wishing it was 70/30, you know?

Trevor Exter: More touring?

Todd Reynolds: Yeah more touring, I've spent most of my life touring and only wanting more, of touring, and now at this point I don't like to travel so much. But also there's all sorts of mitigating factors, like travel’s gotten really hard. Yeah, travels gotten more difficult.

Trevor Exter: Yeah, don't get me started on that (?) experience

Todd Reynolds: But, but something, something suddenly shifted In Me, as a musician, and I think, of course I can only speak for myself, I can't speak for another soul. But for me, something shifted when I crested 50, and I just decided somehow I just wanted a little bit more peace and a little bit less ambition. I think what actually left me was this kind of burning ambition, to get further, get forward, and I also watched a lot of, I watched some of my colleagues around me, they're still like that, they're like, they'll take every gig and they're constantly, constantly pushing. when I see them they're always on the front edge, they're always like activated, which is totally great. I remember what that felt like. But there's a part of me, which sort of wants to meditate a little bit more and be more...

Trevor Exter: Or Just slow down a little bit.

Todd Reynolds: Or slow down a little bit, Yeah.

Trevor Exter: I hear you. Tell me what should a younger player just avoid categorically.

Todd Reynolds: Drugs. No, that's not true.

Trevor Exter: “Todd Reynolds says do more drugs.”

Todd Reynolds: Nah!!

Trevor Exter: “we are live….”

Todd Reynolds: Yeah. Well what young players should categorically avoid is comparing themselves to others. If there's one thing that has hurt my soul more over the long haul, it's comparing myself to others. In a way it's been very useful because it pulls me forward, like if I set a goal forward, I say okay, well so and so, they have it, they're having a situation like this, and I want to have something like this, so therefore I need to do this to get there, in a way that will pull me forward but in another way it takes away from that sort of ability to self examine, and to say “yeah, I want this for me and for, you know, what I want to do, rather than just trying to get where somebody else is, or get where Bruce Springsteen is…”

Trevor Exter: Especially in the violin scene! I mean you all violinists are like hornets with each other, just like, so much more... And I'm not saying this in a negative way, but you know as a cello player like we we play fewer notes, and we play longer ones and we sort of get more “basking” moments just like in the joy of sound for its own sake, and there is some, there's plenty of competition among cellists, but then we just look across at the violin section and see the knitted brows and just, violinists...

Todd Reynolds: The fire in their eyes.

Trevor Exter: Yeah, yeah, violinists are definitely like operating on a different frequency, just in terms of, you know, the heat that's on the violinist, the amount of competition between them to get the violin gig, the amount of concertos you have to learn at all just to be a professional, all the show pieces and showmanship that goes into being a violinist, and just like the, just the general shining that has to happen. I mean, you know, as a cellist I've been a spectator of that my entire life as a musician, and it's scary for the rest of us to just see. What's that like on the inside?

Todd Reynolds: It's funny, I kind of missed it all, and I missed it intentionally. That's one of the, one of the sort of value-adds, if you will, or the benefits of having gone into new music. There were very few people doing what I was doing and the people that were doing it were people that I idolised. People like Irvine Arditti, the Arditti string quartet, Rolfe Schulte, you know, just like incredible new music violinists. That's who I thought I wanted to be until I stopped wanting to be them.  But at that point, you know, there were all these other violinists that are trying to achieve something else. So for me I would rather at that point... I was totally anxious to play [00:25:00] just as high as them, just as fast as them, just not the scales they were playing. I wanted to play weird atonal stuff, and execute that. And what set me apart from other violinists is, that they just weren't choosing that, they were choosing something else and playing it beautifully so it made it easier for me to kind of love and respect my fellow violinist, and stay out of competition. Even nowadays, you know, as I've grown older, there are people, there violinists in New York who do what I used to do. That I just am not interested in doing that stuff anymore, and I can get behind those people and push. I'm like, you know, go listen to this, I'll tell people when they call me. They'll say will you do this gig? And I'm like no you don't want me, you want this person, go call this person because they are phenomenal at doing that, and they're just, they're really sort of crushing it at the top of their game, in that in that region. While I want to sit here and produce music and compose.

Trevor Exter: What habits should a newer player cultivate?

Todd Reynolds: I'd say that, [00:26:00] as one is coming up and learning, the most important thing that I, that I like to talk about as a player is that the quality of your experience as a musician, and the quality of what you transmit to others as your collaborating with them, is directly correlated to the quality of your listening, not the quality of your playing. So if you are a player of an instrument... it's very important to be able to negotiate your instrument, hands down. That's one of the things you need to concern yourself with is always bettering yourself in the expertise of playing your instrument and of understanding music.  But when you take all that and that's a given, the next step is what is the quality of your listening? How clear are the messages getting into your brain when you're collaborating with somebody? Intonation is all about listening, whether you're playing in time with somebody or with a track or whatever. This is all qualities of listening. It's not as much your body [00:27:00] and your ability to to technically be proficient. It's more about your listening, and if you're listening guides you then you will be well served. Also as far as style goes, and genre, and all that stuff, you know, the further we go down the path of IT, of Information Technology, the more that all music is readily available to us. So the idea that you listen carefully to what your predilections are, what you like, what you love, what makes your heart respond, what makes your body dance. The more that you listen to that, and you go deeper into investigating those things, the more happy of a person you will be, the more clear your message would be - because that's what we are, we are we are message carriers of our own and on behalf of others - and the, the better of a priest and priestess you will be. Because that's also what we [00:28:00] do, is we serve, we serve the public by digging down into something that's beyond words.

Trevor Exter: That's great. Thanks Todd, it's been great talking to you

Todd Reynolds: Been great talking to you Trev.

Trevor Exter: That was fun right?

Todd Reynolds: I had a great time!


Trevor Exter: That was Todd Reynolds, you can find him at Todd Reynolds.com, His Twitter and Instagram handle is @Digifiddler , D.I.G.I - Fiddler, and you can also buy a bunch of amazing records at his website. [00:29:00]

This podcast is an independent production hosted by me Trevor Exter. Go to play it like it's music to find out more, and please leave us a review on Apple podcasts and Stitcher, everywhere else we're listed. It's the most helpful thing you can do to put us on the radar by far, hanging out with real musicians in a real work space is the best. And you just got another taste of it.  This is Play It Like It's Music, see you next time.

"Play It Like It's Music" by Trevor Exter
Play It Like It's Music
Purists may whine that the best days of music are behind us, that capital “M” music has seen its peak and is no longer relevant. But here at Play It Like It's Music we believe the opposite: not only is the act of musicmaking an essential life skill with a lineage stretching back to the beginnings of human history, but the vocation of the professional musician is more vital today than it ever has been. Once a month, join musician, songwriter and producer Trevor Exter as he drops in on working musicians from every genre.