Monday, March 28, 2005

Where worlds collide

It must be obvious to even the most casual listener that Radiohead have diverse musical influences, but hearing the wide breadth of music curated by Jonny Greenwood at the Ether festival last night at the Royal Festival Hall reminded me sharply of Greenwood's eclectic classical leanings and the various ways these have found themselves on to recent Radiohead albums -- particularly Amnesiac and the spellblindingly awesome Kid A. Greenwood has said:
"I get these enthusiasms which can drive the band crazy, but I just say: listen, French horns are amazing, we've got to find a way of using them. Or I'll say, it would be great if this song sounded like [Krzysztof] Penderecki [acclaimed Polish modern classical composer], or Alice Coltrane [famed jazz instrumentalist]. And it's childish because none of us can play jazz like Alice Coltrane, and none of us can write the kind of music that Penderecki does. We've only got guitars and a basic knowledge of music, but we reach for these things and miss. That's what's cool about it."

On its release, Pitchfork described Kid A as "an album of sparking paradox. It's cacophonous yet tranquil, experimental yet familiar, foreign yet womb-like, spacious yet visceral, textured yet vaporous, awakening yet dreamlike, infinite yet 48 minutes".

The mix of music showcased at Ether last night was just as exquisite: from Greenwood's own subtly radiant smear -- by turns mystical and futuristic -- and dark and uplifting Piano for Children; through Olivier Messiaen's atmospheric, haunting and multihued tone poem La Fete des Belles Eaux, featuring 6 of one of the world's earliest electronic instruments -- the eerie, swooping and sliding Ondes Martenot; to the passionate and dynamic classical Arabic pieces of The Nazareth Orchestra.

The night was capped by a duet between diminutive Thom Yorke and Arabic singer Lubna Salame of Radiohead's Arpeggi and Where Bluebirds Fly. Yorke's voice is an amazingly unique instrument and his twisting falsetto crying over the sensual wail of Salame was simply mesmerising.

A gloriously hypnotic evening.

Related links:

+ Pop pioneer in love with the classics. "Classical music was Jonny Greenwood's original passion. He learned the viola at home in Oxford years before he picked up the guitar at 16. His first band was the Thames Vale Youth Orchestra, and he still remembers how 'the first time I heard a proper orchestra, the sound just blew me away.'"

+ Bodysong. Jonny Greenwood's magnetic score to the British film.

+ Radiohead at ease. Up-to-the-minute Radiohead news.

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