When most Radiohead fans were behind their computers yesterday, following the London webcast, fans in New York visited a classical encore at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, where Jonny Greenwood’s ‘Popcorn Superhet Receiver’ had its US premiere.
New York Magazine reviewed the Wordless Music event: (…) “Popcorn, composed in 2005 and reputedly inspired by the work of Polish modernist composer Krzysztof Penderecki, is excerpted in Greenwood’s score for Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. But even absent the exploding oil derricks and Daniel Day-Lewis, it still makes for a jarring listen, especially when ricocheting through St. Paul’s echoing acoustics. The Wordless Orchestra gave it an impressive read-through, decorating the pretty sections with stabs of ear-bending discord. Had Greenwood himself been there, he’d have been beaming, assuming the happy-go-lucky members of Radiohead are capable of such a thing.Worthy of special note is conductor Brad Lubman, who was able to keep all musicians in tempo without using a baton, and whose exaggerated body language proved invaluable to fans who might not have otherwise known when to clap.”
Jonny was also interview by New York Times for the piece that will be performed again tonight in New York City.
“Popcorn Superhet Receiver” — its title taken from a shortwave radio catalog — is an exploration of “white noise,” a form of electronic noise that embraces every audible frequency and can sound like hissing or static. In its purest form, all frequencies are heard at the same intensity, but Mr. Greenwood takes artistic license: even when the chords are at their densest, melodies emerge as the strings change pitches.
“Popcorn Superhet Receiver” could easily have been an electronic piece instead of an orchestral score. Mr. Greenwood began work on it by recording himself playing every available note on the viola. Then, using Pro Tools, a flexible digital editing program, he configured those notes into a piece on 36 separate tracks (one for each instrumental line) and shaped the attacks, releases and dynamics of each note. Once the recording was complete, he transcribed it the old-fashioned way, using pen and paper.
“I went in trying for it to be like a pure electronic experience, just sounding like white noise coming from the stage.” Mr. Greenwood said. “But at the first rehearsal, it was obvious that that’s impossible. So I had to start again and just turn it into a celebration of the fact that you can’t get this blank mutual hiss from an orchestra. Instead, you get what sound like melodies and chords going on, just as an extension of what people are doing. And once you’re in a room hearing it, it’s a beautiful thing.”
Has he considered taking up the baton and conducting these pieces himself?
“No, that would be just awful,” he said. “You need to have a steely glare. I tried conducting at a Radiohead string session, and instead of telling people when to come in, I was just vaguely suggesting that if they’d like to begin at some point, that would be great. And you can’t do that.”