Perhaps best known as the distorted guitar virtuoso behind Radiohead, Jonny Greenwood has certainly influenced the likes of modern music. He is often included on comprehensive “Greatest Guitarists” lists, and his distinctive, aggressive playing method combined with programming knowledge and tendency toward haunting, spacious arrangements have helped the band venture beyond traditional rock music and gain monumental respect from musicians and fans alike. Greenwood has been successful in his own ventures as well, and has tread into some interesting territory over the course of his career. With projects including orchestral compositions, film scores, a dub-reggae compilation album, and collaborations with various musicians, Jonny Greenwood is a musical chameleon whose abilities and tastes are difficult to pigeonhole. Below are just a few of the most successful and noteworthy creations by the English musician.
Bodysong Soundtrack (2003)
Image via CD Universe
Bodysong, an award winning documentary from director Simon Pummell, takes the viewer on a journey through the many common experiences that envelop life as a human on 20th century planet Earth. Composed of collected footage spanning many decades, the film is not always pleasant to watch, but stimulates a diplomatic curiosity in the viewer. Beginning in the womb, Bodysong covers themes such as birth, childhood, sex, hunger, war, illness, ritual, worship, dance, protest, death, and ends with the creation of another human life. Greenwood’s complex pieces made me feel as if I was an alien visitor encountering such things for the first time. I began to view the behavior of the subjects as very strange, almost disconnecting me from the experiences, yet still enforcing a sense of deep empathy. Jonny would go on to use “Convergence”, a song from the film on another film soundtrack he composed, There Will Be Blood.
Popcorn Superhet Receiver (2005)
Following a residency at the BBC Concert Orchestra, Jonny Greenwood was inspired to write Popcorn Superhet Receiver, a 20 minute long composition performed by a string orchestra. Named for a piece of electronic equipment that is responsible for the modern radio, Greenwood “has likened the sound of this first orchestral foray to his own memories of childhood car rides, in which the engine’s hum contributed a droning counterpoint to the cassette playing in the tape deck” (via Slate). The artist notes Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki as being of great influence on the piece. Ears familiar with Radiohead might recall some of the stranger moments at the end of “Climbing Up the Walls” off of OK Computer whilst listening. At the five minute mark, the composition swells into agony and paranoia, themes that dissolve and return numerous times throughout the work. Sections of Superhet would also be used in the soundtrack for There Will Be Blood.
The Weird Sisters (2005)
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In the deleted scenes for the DVD of 2005 film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, you may recognize a few faces in the fictional rock group “The Weird Sisters“. Comprised of Radiohead members Jonny Greenwood and drummer Phil Selway, along with Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, the Yule Ball performance scene was cut out of the movie due to copyright issues with Canadian group “The Wyrd Sisters”. Cocker composed the group’s tracks, which include “Do the Hippogriff” and “This is the Night”. While this may not be the most musically moving performance by Greenwood, it’s inclusion on this list has more to do with it’s novelty as an interesting bit of trivia, and also how fabulous Jonny looks in silver lipstick.
Jonny Greenwood is the Controller (2007)
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British reggae specialty label Trojan invited Greenwood to raid their vaults and compile his own collection of songs to commemorate their 40th anniversary. Before the release, Greenwood explained on Radiohead’s official blog Dead Air Space, “I often glibly add – ‘you could spend 6 months listening to just dub reggae, and it would all be worth hearing.’ I realize that sounds patronizing, but I choose reggae because I know so many people who collect this kind of music and no other – which fascinates me – and because it’s mostly unknown to me. Not any more….I’ve just done it.” He included a few classics, such as “I’m Still in Love” by Marcia Atkins, as well as several Lee “Scratch” Perry jams.
There Will Be Blood Soundtrack (2007)
Image via All Music
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood tells the dark tale of relentless ambition and greed during the California oil boom of the early 1900’s. Jonny Greenwood was personally asked by Anderson to compose the score, and what he delivered was an emotionally prodding and nefarious masterpiece. The artist’s inclusion of his beloved Ondes Martenot (a pre-cursor to the modern theramin), reinforces the eerie mood. In the scene capturing the dangerous oil rig fire, Greenwood’s “Convergence” offers a tribal, clanky, industrial headache to Daniel Plainview’s once perfect California dream.
Inherent Vice Soundtrack (2014)
Image via Official Site
Teaming up with director Paul Thomas Anderson once more, Jonny delivered his signature brand of twisted drama for the soundtrack of the stoner-crime flick. Mixed within instrumentation performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra are 70’s gems like Can’s “Vitamin C” and Neil Young’s “Journey Through the Past”. The soundtrack even features an unreleased Radiohead track, “Spooks”, recorded with Gaz Coombes of Supergrass and featuring a voice over from Joanna Newsom.
Junun With Shye Ben Tzur & The Rajasthan Express (2015)
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Junun (meaning “madness of love”) is the title of both a Paul Thomas Anderson directed documentary film and an album documenting the collaboration between Jonny Greenwood, Israeli music-maker Shye Ben Tzur, and various Indian musicians collectively known as The Rajasthan Express. Due to be released on November 20th, the album features production by Radiohead pal Nigel Godrich, and devotional qawwalis sung in Hebrew, Urdu and Hindi. Shye Ben Tzur says of the project, “Indian music is so vast and so deep and the more I learn different things about it, I realize how ignorant I was. It just doesn’t stop”. You can stream the film on Mubi.