Jonny Greenwood Premieres 'Popcorn' in U.S.

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Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood is also an up-and-coming modern composer. Leon Neal / Getty Images hide caption

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Composer Brad Lubman conducted the ad-hoc orchestra for Greenwood's Popcorn Superhet Receiver. hide caption

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As the guitarist for Radiohead, Jonny Greenwood has helped push the boundaries of rock music by integrating electronics, unconventional song structures, and decidedly un-rock sounds. It's a lesser-known fact, though, that Greenwood is a classically trained violinist and modern composer. In a concert from the Wordless Music Series, recorded by WNYC, Greenwood's BBC-commissioned Popcorn Superhet Receiver received its U.S. premiere on Jan. 16, 2008, at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York City. The ad-hoc ensemble was led by conductor Brad Lubman.

Popcorn Superhet Receiver takes its name from a shortwave radio catalog, and is inspired by "white noise," a sound that encompasses every audible frequency and often seems like static. Greenwood applied this concept to his composition, which he wrote by layering all of his violin parts on top of each other in a digital editing program. He then transcribed it all with pen and paper.

Like his self-acknowledged influences, modern composers Olivier Messiaen and Krzysztof Penderecki, the piece is a work of avant-garde romanticism. At its core, Popcorn is atonal, sometimes bracing, but an altogether sweeping and beautiful noise. The Oscar-nominated film There Will Be Blood excerpts two sections of the suite — in addition to a full-length score by Greenwood — to great cinematic effect.

Hear the other pieces from this concert: Gavin Bryars' Sinking of the Titanic and John Adams' Christian Zeal and Activity.

Webcasts of the Wordless Music Series are produced by WNYC and hosted by Jad Abumrad.

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