Release Date: Mar 13, 2012
Record label: Nonesuch
Genre(s): Classical, Miscellaneous (Classical), Orchestral
Krzysztof Penderecki and Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead), prominent figures in music from different generations, traditions, and cultures, meet in the blurring epistemological circumscriptions of the two mega-genres of Western music — popular music and so-called classical music — by means of this set of concise, non-chronological, complementary compositions for string instruments. The album, officially titled Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima / Popcorn Superhet Receiver / Polymorphia / 48 Responses to Polymorphia, is not ‘new’ as in being ‘groundbreaking’ music for 2012, and therefore it does not fall into the trap of musical experimentation as the only conceivable path to take in contemporary music (a path propelled by the deceiving notion of aesthetic progress and artistic evolution). This album is also not ‘new’ as in previously unpublished music (thus dismissing the notion of novelty as a fulfillment of consumerist desire): Penderecki’s compositions are already canonical, and Greenwood’s contributions have shown up in different media in the last few years.
Inspired early on by the experimental pieces of Krzysztof Penderecki, Radiohead's guitarist and composer Jonny Greenwood has pursued the idea of shaping orchestral sounds in enexpected ways to produce startling and innovative works. Just as Penderecki wrote for conventional instruments and turned dense bands of microtonal dissonances and extended techniques into the agonized cries of Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima and the pulsating roars and shrieks of Polymorphia, Greenwood achieves comparable effects in his multilayered and highly varied orchestral music. The massed harmonies and swooping glissandi of Popcorn Superhet Receiver owe a considerable debt to Threnody, which Greenwood would gladly admit; because the title 48 Responses to Polymorphia openly acknowledges the connection to that work, it is easy to identify Greenwood's raw materials and how he brilliantly reworks them to his purposes.
Creation and destruction have been paradigms in art since Neolithic sculptures started crumbling under the ravages of war. The rapidly growing landscape that contemporary avant-garde music finds itself in provides the inevitable collision of these very concepts found in Krzysztof Penderecki‘s and Jonny Greenwood‘s work. The result is one of the most ambitious albums of the year so far.
Review Summary: At what point does something become too predictable to be avant-garde?Penderecki and Greenwood are both hugely important figures in my own personal musical history, and I've got a lot of love for both, but the truth is that I can barely think of any composer and any pop musician that are more obvious a pairing. Penderecki is the standard go-to choice for any rocker trying to piggyback some cultural cache (observe how Kele Okereke of Bloc Party once claimed that the band were influenced by him, when they're really obviously not), and Radiohead would be the prime contenders amongst all of rock to make the bold leap from Radio 2 to Radio 3. Even moreso than that, Greenwood has been one of the most vocal members of the Penderecki lip service club ever since OK Computer and "Climbing Up the Walls".