Listen, Finally, to Jonny Greenwood’s “Popcorn Superhet Receiver”

Slate's Culture Blog
March 5 2012 2:53 PM

Jonny Greenwood’s Orchestral Work Finally Gets the Release It Deserves

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Jonny Greenwood attends the premiere of Norwegian Wood at the 67th Venice Film Festival. Greenwood scored the film.

Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Back in November, Seth Colter Walls asked in Slate, “Why is no one talking about Jonny Greenwood’s excellent new recording?” Jonny Greenwood is lead guitarist for the always obsessed-over Radiohead, but when his first large-scale orchestral piece “Popcorn Superhet Receiver” was given a quiet release on the small label Analekta, no one—even Radiohead’s army of superfans—seemed to take notice. Nonesuch, the label that also put out Greenwood’s chilling score for There Will Be Blood, was planning a release of its own, and Walls wondered whether Greenwood and his publicity team we’re holding their fire until then.

Walls seems to have been right: Today you can stream “Popcorn Superhet Receiver” from NPR, and the recording is attracting notice around the Web.

The Nonesuch release, which pairs Greenwood with acclaimed Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, one of his idols, also features another new Greenwood work: “48 Responses to Polymorphia.” Each work is set beside the Penderecki composition that inspired it, with “Popcorn Superhet Receiver” beside Penderecki’s “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima,” and “48 Responses to Polymorphia” beside Penderecki’s “Polymorphia.” (You might recognize each of the Penderecki pieces from the soundtrack for The Shining). The two composers described the relationship between their two compositions in a joint interview with The Guardian:

Penderecki wired up psychiatric patients to encephalogram machines and played them an earlier piece of his, the “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima,” and then translated the graphs of their brain-waves as they reacted to the music into the textures of “Polymorphia.” Greenwood has his own lo-fi homage to that idea in his “48 Responses.” Partly also in tribute to Penderecki's love of trees, Greenwood found an oak leaf in his garden, and transformed the contours of its veins and sinews into musical material. … "I hope he sees it as a gesture of affection," [Greenwood] says, "but it might be one of those things that looks better on paper. I only let that part play for about 30 seconds of the 20-minute piece."
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Greenwood’s orchestral work has  garnered acclaim beyond the world of Radiohead fans. New Yorker music critic Alex Ross has written fondly of “Popcorn” and the score for There Will Be Blood in 2008, calling it “at once terrifying and enrapturing, alien and intimate.” For those who are primarily interested in Greenwood’s work with Radiohead, there’s good news for you as well: The band has just announced new tour dates for the East Coast and Canada.

Previously:
Jonny Greenwood’s “Popcorn Superhet Receiver”: It’s great, so why is no one talking about it?
Did You See This? Radiohead Performs New Songs
Did You See This? Unreleased Demos From Before Radiohead Was Radiohead

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

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