Jonny Greenwood Talks Orchestral Thrills, 'Year Off' From Radiohead

The multi-instrumentalist says writing for live performance made him rethink compositional process

Jonny Greenwood
Gaelle Beri/Redferns via Getty Images
June 13, 2014 3:15 PM ET

As Radiohead fans long for a follow-up to 2011's The King of Limbs, the band has been enjoying a hard-earned rest. But multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood, at least, has stayed busy. In a new piece written for The Guardian, Greenwood details the events of his "year off from Radiohead," touching on his orchestral film score projects (including his upcoming work on Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice) and the thrilling unpredictability of live classical music. 

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One of Greenwood's major projects has been "writing scored music for small string groups," including residencies with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the London Contemporary Orchestra. Making music that's "intended for concerts instead of recordings" has led the multi-instrumentalist to re-think his compositional approach.

“I love the impermanence of the music live: It’s played in the room – which is itself infinitely variable from one concert to another – and then it’s gone, soaked into the walls,” he says. “Unlike recordings, it isn’t identical to the previous performance or the next one. It can go slightly (or badly) wrong at any time. And all that is shared equally by everyone in the room.”

Greenwood also touches on the trappings of audiophile culture and how some listeners place more importance on fidelity than actual music. "I went into one shop with Radiohead's producer Nigel Godrich," he says. "Seeing the prices, he asked the owner: "Why would you need to listen to OK Computer on a CD player that costs more than the tape machine which we recorded it on?'

"'Ah,'" he replied. 'You're one of these people who think digital is just ones and zeros.'"

Back in March, Greenwood told Nashville Cream that the band is planning to reconvene at the end of the summer to discuss their next musical move. In the meantime, he's carrying on with his own orchestral work.

In August, he'll perform the acclaimed There Will Be Blood score for the first time ever, in London, and he'll follow up in September with two performances in New York City. For the latter shows, Greenwood will play the ondes Martenot (an early 20th century amplified keyboard) alongside Wordless Music Orchestra, a 50-piece New York band, as Paul Thomas Anderson's brooding film plays on a 50-foot movie screen in the United Palace Theater; those performances will take place September 19th and 20th.

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