popcorn superhet receiver

kirk and i saw “there will be blood” recently and came out raving about the score, which was by jonny greenwood of radiohead. i thought it was the best thing about the movie, daniel day-lewis included. kirk didn’t go that far, but that’s what makes the phone book.

so when i got a ny times email about the wordless music concert featuring jonny greenwood’s composition “popcorn superhet receiver”, i immediately got tickets.

and the associated article discussed his love of messiaen, a composer that kirk and i love.

sometimes, serendipitously, all signs point to yes.

last night’s concert was a marvel. the venue, an acoustically outstanding church, was filled to overflow capacity with an atypical crowd for orchestral music — lots of groovy williamsburg types who looked to be fleeing for the “l” train afterwards. what an attentive audience, though — much more attentive than the old folks normally attending these things. absolutely rapt, and appropriately so given the well-planned program. each of the three pieces built internally to different climaxes, as did the three pieces taken as a whole.

the first was “sinking of the titanic” by gavin bryars — based on the music that the band played as the boat sank, and interspersed with tape of survivors’ interviews and ambient noise. a bit somnambulant, but relaxing and engaging.

the second was “christian zeal and activity” by john adams. a bit more active musically, and this time the interspersed tape was jimmy swaggart preaching the story of the healing of the man with the withered hand. loved this, because it took me back to that great jimmy swaggart sample in “welcome to paradise” by front 242 (hey poor! you don’t have to be poor anymore! jesus is here!) this piece was shorter quiet sections that built to quick crescendos and repeated the theme.

the last piece was “popcorn superhet receiver”. i’ll excerpt the ny times review to explain:

Mr. Greenwood has described “Popcorn Superhet Receiver,” named for a shortwave radio, as a study in white noise, the electronic whoosh you hear between radio stations. But it also contrasts old and new technologies: white noise is approximated by antique instruments made of wood, horsehair and catgut.

And where pure white noise is an undifferentiated hiss, Mr. Greenwood’s score, even at its most densely atonal, has a consistently alluring shimmer and embraces everything from lush vibrato, glissandos and sudden dynamic shifts to slowly rising chromatic themes. Toward the end his clusters give way to a prismatic full-orchestra pizzicato section: imagine the scherzo of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony on steroids, or acid, or both.

what he said.

all i know is that it was, for me, far and away the most engaging and exciting piece of the evening, mr. greenwood’s celebrity-ness notwithstanding. it had the feel of someone with unlimited talent being finally let loose to express himself in a new medium, to startlingly good effect. the whole evening had a “moment in history” feel, as if you had been in the audience for steve reich’s first performance or something.

i think this greenwood kid may have a future.

update: jonny greenwood is in the scott walker documentary. another artist we’ve discovered and love. this keeps getting weirder and more coincidental.