September 14, 2009 – 4:07 am

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BBC Proms: Popcorn Superhet Receiver [no label, 1CD]
Performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra
Martyn Brabbins (conductor)

Live at the Royal Albert Hall, London, August 14, 2009. Very good radio broadcast.

Jonny Greenwood might be known as a member of Radiohead but the multi-instrmentalist is also a composer in his own right, as when his Popcorn Superhet Receiver was performed at the BBC Proms.

According to Allan Kozinn of The New York Times: “Greenwood has described Popcorn Superhet Receiver, named for a shortwave radio, as a study in white noise, the electronic whoosh you hear between radio stations. But it also contrasts old and new technologies: white noise is approximated by antique instruments made of wood, horsehair and catgut.

“And where pure white noise is an undifferentiated hiss, Greenwood’s score, even at its most densely atonal, has a consistently alluring shimmer and embraces everything from lush vibrato, glissandos and sudden dynamic shifts to slowly rising chromatic themes. Toward the end his clusters give way to a prismatic full-orchestra pizzicato section: imagine the scherzo of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony on steroids, or acid, or both.”

Do a search on the net and responses to the piece are varied: “A clever acoustic experiment, seductively played by the standing strings of the BBCSO.” (The UK Times)  “Framed by two similar sections of saccharine harmonies, partly punctuated by endless swarming noises and aimless series of glissandi, some on almost-major-scales, it lacks any sense of direction.” (

According to the BBC, the piece had emerged from Greenwood’s stint as associate composer with the BBC Concert Orchestra, which workshopped it during composition. There was plenty of trial and error, the composer reported later, while he researched ways of approximating the sounds he imagined. The orchestra premiered it in London on April 23, 2005, conducted by Robert Ziegler, and it went on to win the BBC Radio 3 listeners’ prize at the 2006 British Composer Awards. In 2007 part of it went into Greenwood’s score for the Paul Thomas Anderson film There Will Be Blood, and a revised, slightly shortened version was played across the USA during 2008.

For those who need a bit of visual aid, think of Dave Bowman’s trip through the Star Gate in 2001 A Space Odyssey set to Greenwood’s score instead of Ligeti and Penderecki. It may not reveal new stellar horizons, but as a communication medium, one can hardly fault Greenwood for a lack of trying.

Thanks to COSMOSRA for sharing the track on the Dime site.

This track is no longer available for download (see below). 

Track 01. Jonny Greenwood: Popcorn Superhet Receiver (24.3MB)

Click here to order Jonny Greenwood’s There Will Be Blood soundtrack.

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