Jonny Greenwood's Guitar Awesomeness Inspired Steve Reich's Radiohead Composition

'It's kind of like Radiohead slipping by, and then the clouds come over, you go somewhere else, and then whoop! — they come out the other end.'

steve reich thom yorke
Steve Reigh and Thom Yorke / Photo of Yorke by Getty Images
WRITTEN BY
Daniel Kreps

In just over a month's time, legendary minimalist composer Steve Reich will debut his latest piece Radio Rewrite, an 18-minute chamber-music composition inspired by Radiohead. And in a new interview with the Globe and Mail, Reich discusses how the Radiohead project came to be and how he transformed the band's music for the composition. The genesis of the piece is simple enough: Both Reich and Radiohead's avant-classical-leaning guitarist Jonny Greenwood were recruited to play the same Polish festival in 2011. Greenwood was there performing a rendition of Reich's own 1987 compisition Electric Counterpoint, and the composer was impressed by Greenwood's ability to play the complex piece.

"Jonny's performance was particularly warm, and very personal, with a different sound," Reich said. After meeting the guitarist, Reich returned home and checked out some of Radiohead's music, which ultimately led to Radio Rewrite. When Reich first announced his Radiohead-inspired composition in January 2012, it was reported that Kid A's "Everything In Its Right Place" and In Rainbows' "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" were the catalyst for the composer's interest in the band, but Reich now says Radio Rewrite isn't just remixes of those tracks. "It's not a set of variations,” Reich told the Globe and Mail. "Radiohead gave me an armature, they got me up and running, but it's my piece and I'm on my own. They underpin it in a way that is sometimes perceptible, sometimes not. It's kind of like Radiohead slipping by, and then the clouds come over, you go somewhere else, and then whoop! — they come out the other end." Translated from Reichese, that means, "Yeah, this will sound nothing like Radiohead but if I just keep saying 'Radiohead' everyone will pay attention to this composition so let's roll with that."

Either way, we're still excited for the shitty audience cell-phone recordings of Radio Rewrite on March 5, when the piece debuts at London's South Bank. The U.S. premiere will follow at Stanford University on March 16.

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