Who do you get to compose a rich, yet sparing soundtrack to a British documentary about the human experience? Philip Glass? Nope. He’s `merican. Besides, he’s already sort of done it with his soundtracks to Koyaanisquatsi, Powaqqatsi, and Naqoyqatsi. Peter Gabriel? This hits a little closer to the mark, but he’s sort of done this gig as well with his album Passion, the soundtrack to Martin Scorcese’s film, The Last Temptation of Christ.
So, who do you get? You get the still very young, mop-haired, withdrawn prodigy from Radiohead, Jonny Greenwood, that’s who. Ever experimenting with soundscapes and effects while with his day band, Greenwood seemed the perfect choice to match sound with vision for the film by Simon Pummell called Bodysong. Like Glass’ work on the aforementioned titles, and to a lesser extent Gabriel’s work, Bodysong‘s music is meant to be heard with the images they represent. Luckily the CD is enhanced with a nine-minute clip from the film to give those who might not get the chance to see it on the big screen that unique opportunity.
On its own, the music is stark and haunting, laden with songs that will leave you a little disturbed and a lot in awe. “Moon Trills” is the closest thing to some of Radiohead’s most recent work such as “Sail to the Moon”. “Iron Swallow” is one of the songs used for the film clip embedded in the CD and is one of the most evocative. Jonny receives help in the form of the Emperor Quartet on the track and it is their playing of Jonny’s composition that puts one in such a sad place. In “Convergence”, a multitude of percussion sounds play at different speeds and rhythms leading to what the title suggests. Finally, after all of this misaligned rhythm, the sounds come together, overlapping into harmonious syncopation. I have seen this once before in a music class at college with two people playing xylophones and going in and out of rhythmical alignment and was blown away, but this track does it with at least six different percussion instruments! Even though it might have been computer assisted, it is nonetheless impressive.
“Nudnik Headache” is Greenwood’s best impression of DJ Shadow, while “Splitter”, another track used in the film clip, was confused for Morphine when I played it for a friend. “Bode Radio / Glass Light / Broken Hearts” brings the Emperor Quartet back and creates something beautiful and Bjork-like in its last five seconds. The best track, in my opinion, is “24 Hour Charleston”, featuring brother and fellow Radiohead bandmate, Colin Greenwood. It’s a little bit of Radiohead and a little bit of the themes for HBO’s Deadwood or Carnivale. Then Jonny gets his Sonny Rollins on for “Milky Drops from Heaven”. Hell, it’s even got a jazz title. The stand-up bass starts us off a little relaxed and groovin’ until crazy be-bop saxophone is used to keep the listener and viewer a little unsettled.
If I were to hazard a guess as to which Radiohead band member were to release solo music first, I would have had even money on Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood. I’ve always considered him to be more of a creative force and energy in that band than people have given him credit for. If you’ve seen Radiohead on their most recent tour, you know from the song, “Sit down. Stand up”, the energy he creates and exudes from behind his electronic stacks while Thom frenetically delivers, The raindrops, the raindrops, the raindrops. With Bodysong Jonny has not only shown his range and talent, but also his knowledge of the human condition that is evident in the film.
Peter Gabriel- Passion
Philip Glass- Koyaanisqatsi
Sigur Ros- Ba Ba / Ti Ki / Di Do