Video: Watch Ensemble Signal Play The Music of Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood At The Tiny Desk Watch members of the New York-based group give the world premiere video performances of two recent pieces by Radiohead guitarist and composer Jonny Greenwood.

Tiny Desk

Ensemble Signal Plays Jonny Greenwood

Don't see the video above? Click here.

I've watched a lot of Tiny Desk concerts over the years. It's good to see musicians in the raw, away from stage lighting and backing tracks — as if they've just stopped by an office to play over a lunch break, with desk-bound employees watching on. The performances should expose flaws, but instead they tend to expose musicians being casually brilliant, like the members of Ensemble Signal, who certainly play these pieces beautifully.

Unfortunately, I was nowhere near Washington, D.C. for this recording. And I still find it bizarre that you can put a musical idea on paper and have it reproduced at such a distance — and with such added life. We're used to sounds and images being shared as exact clones of one another, but the pleasure in using ink and paper is that the music is interpreted rather than just reproduced. All those years of practice, in all those players, distilled into 15 minutes of music. It's a big privilege — and a continuing motivation to write the best I can.

The first piece, Three Miniatures from Water, was originally a sketch for an Australian Chamber Orchestra commission in 2014. I thought it'd be easier to approach writing for full orchestra by starting with a piano miniature and scaling it up. In fact, only some of the material made it to the final commission, and I always felt the original three miniatures hung together well enough as its own piece of music.

I'm a big admirer of composer Olivier Messiaen, and one of the musical scales he favored was the octatonic mode. It's a lot like an Indian rag in that it's a rigid set of notes, yet isn't necessarily in a major or minor key. There are hundreds of rags in Indian music, but I was surprised to find that Messiaen's octatonic scale isn't one of them. Despite this, it sits nicely over a drone — and that was the starting point for this music. That and the glorious sound of the tanpura, the drone instrument that underpins everything in classical Indian music.

The piece is called Water, after the Philip Larkin poem with the same title, and was especially inspired by the final stanza:

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

The second piece, called 88 (No. 1), is also in one of Messiaen's modes in the first half, before becoming a celebration of the mechanical nature of the piano. The performer has to put fingerless gloves on halfway through, partly in tribute to the immortal Glenn Gould, and partly because the technique requires some painful hammering. But don't let that fool you into thinking the music is dark or angry: It is — or is meant to be — joyful.

Hear Jonny Greenwood Talk More About These Compositions — And His Musical Heroes — In An Interview From All Songs Considered.

SET LIST

  • Three Miniatures from Water
  • 88 (No. 1)

MUSICIANS

Ensemble Signal:

Lisa Moore: piano; Olivia De Prato: violin; Lauren Radnofsky: cello; Greg Chudzik: bass; Paul Coleman and Elena Moon Park: tanpura

CREDITS

Producers: Tom Huizenga, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Mixed by Jonny Greenwood; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Bronson Arcuri, Kaylee Domzalski, Kimani Oletu; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Photo: Amr Alfiky/NPR

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Jacob Collier plays a Tiny Desk (Home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Jacob Collier (Home) Concert

Watch four different Jacob Colliers perform simultaneously in the same studio in this unprecedented Tiny Desk quarantine concert.

Roddy Ricch plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Roddy Ricch (Home) Concert

The chart-topping rapper and songwriter performs a Tiny Desk quarantine concert at West Coast Customs in Los Angeles.

Chicano Batman plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Chicano Batman (Home) Concert

The Alt.Latino favorite comes together virtually to perform a handful of songs from the band's latest album, Invisible People.

Dirty Projectors plays a Tiny Desk (Home) Concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Dirty Projectors (Home) Concert

The indie rock band performs four songs while quarantining in five separate homes.

Trupa Trupa plays a Tiny Desk (Home) Concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Trupa Trupa (Home) Concert

The Polish rock band performed a Tiny Desk quarantine concert in Gdańsk basement.

Fabiano do Nascimento plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Fabiano Do Nascimento (Home) Concert

The Brazilian-born guitarist performs a peace-inducing concert from his home in Los Angeles.

Coreyah plays a Tiny Desk (home) concert. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Coreyah (Home) Concert

The Seoul-based sextet performs music that blends Korean traditional music with modern sounds.

M. Ward plays a Tiny Desk (Home) concert. NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

M. Ward (Home) Concert

The acclaimed guitarist (and masculine half of She & Him) performed seven songs in his Tiny Desk quarantine concert.

Madame Gandhi plays a Tiny Desk (Home) concert. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Madame Gandhi (Home) Concert

Watch the drummer and activist perform three songs for our Tiny Desk quarantine series.

Sudan Archives plays a Tiny Desk concert. Kisha Ravi/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Kisha Ravi/NPR

Sudan Archives

Sudan Archives draws inspiration from Irish and African traditional music. Watch her channel both in this Tiny Desk concert.

Back To Top