Main Index >> Media Index >> Jonny Greenwood Media | UK Media | 2005 Interviews

Radio 3: "Now on to the main event in tonight's program. Last year, Jonny Greenwood, guitarist with Radiohead, was appointed the BBC's concert orchestra's composer in reisdence. Twelve months later, he completed his first commission, Popcorn Superhet Reciever, which was premiered at the LSO St. Luke's Hall in London in April, mixing it nip to long to make a recording. And after the performance, I sat down with Jonny Greenwood and the concert orchestra's conductor, Robert Ziegler for a bit of post match analysis. I asked Jonny Greenwood first, how he came by that title, Popcorn Superhet Reciever."

Jonny Greenwood: "Well, I started off wanting to write something about um sort of radios, I suppose and I just collected a long list of words to do with radios, like interference and reception and things like that. And that came up as a kind of example of a radio. And I just thought that fitted sort of nicely."

Radio 3: "And what was it about the idea of radio that made you think in terms of a string orchestra?"

Jonny: "I just wanted to play with white noise and the idea of background noise and things being obscured and that slowly revealed in things."

Radio 3: "Robert Ziegler, was that a technically, is that a technically difficult piece to play and conduct?"

Robert Ziegler: "It takes just a while to get the measure of it and ask the orchestra to do quite a few things, you know, unconventional things and get to grips with actually making this kind of white noise sound, which is achieved by increasing the pressure of the bow on the string. So rather than making it vibrate, you get actually the friction of the hair on the string. Things like that, I mean, but it's not the little bits that make the piece work, it's how they're put together, I mean, that made it work tonight."

Radio 3: "Right, it certainly was fascinating. Have you ever directed an orchestra where you've got a large number of the string players actually playing the uh violins and violas as if they were ukuleles?"

Robert Ziegler: "No, that one was first, that one was the first. The plectrums was the first for me."

Radio 3: "That plectrum interlude, Jonny, how did the idea of that come to you?"

Jonny: "Well, because I can't really very easily play in tune on the viola, I would tend to sit in a room in my house, looking at the thing and wondering what kind of sounds I can make with it. So the plectrum's lying around so it's about hitting the instrument with different things and a lot of the piece, as the players know (???), they're playing the same note for a very long time. And that's because when I was making recordings, I can really only, you know, find one note and stick to it. You know, I need to tune it to make sure I'm in tune. And so I was recording layers upon layers of myself playing, but if I had to change a note, then I would go out of tune, so I couldn't. So that's kind of the restriction they were all under."

Radio 3: "What was it like, obviously you're best known for your work with Radiohead and that's five guys in a room. What's it like working with a conductor and an orchestra by comparison?"

Jonny: "Well, with this orchestra, it's been great because they have all been very keen to talk to me and come up with suggestions and ideas, um explanations for why things don't work. I mean, I remember a few years ago, being told that when you work with an orchestra, you had to do everything through the conductor and you shouldn't really approach the orchestra and you shouldn't even be polite to the surly conductor, allegedly. And it's just been the opposite if that, really. It's been them just being really easy going in every way. So yeah, it's great."

Radio 3: "So has this, Robert, has this piece been in a sense a collaboration for you? I mean this is Jonny's first work for a full scale string orchestra. So I guess there's been a certain amount of trial and error involved?"

Robert Ziegler: "Yeah, we were fortunate that, the BBC was fortunate to prepare this piece with two workshops, so we were able to try stuff out and see what worked, and what didn't work, what sort of ah proportions the piece was going to take. Which is, actually the most important thing. Because things will work, but they won't demand as much space as sort of the other things. So, I think those really helped in not just developing individual sounds, but developing the real structure of the piece. It was very, very helpful."

Radio 3: "Jonny, this is the first of your commissions as composer in residence for the concert orchestra. Did it sound like you thought it was going to sound when you sat in the audience and heard it played in front of a crowd of people here for the first time?"

Jonny: "I was very excited when they started talking for the... that sort of tension that was in the room. It is quite upsetting just to be, you know, sat in front of a bunch of people who are sort of talking and shouting."

Radio 3: "What were they saying?"

Jonny: "Noise. It's just um there's like this junk e-mail and bits of news ... papers and financial reports and just lots of junk, really. So basically... And I found-"

Radio 3: "Interference?"

Jonny: "Yeah, and this um... found this scary website that was predicting who the next pope would be and how long he would be in and it's very strange. So, yeah, just noise, really."