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Jonny Greenwood premieres tomorrow “268 Years of Reverb”, an eight-hour composition written for the pipe organ of the Octagon Chapel in Norwich.

Tomorrow, Saturday, sees the world premiere of 268 Years of Reverb, a composition for church organ by Jonny Greenwood, the soundtrack composer and multi-instrumentalist who is a member of Radiohead and The Smile. It is an eight-hour work whose idea was born, as he explained to Eastern Daily Press, “from the experience of seeing PA systems being checked in various venues: a sweep of every possible frequency is sent into the empty space, and what comes back is analysed. It always feels like a room is different after this is done – cleansed, or reinvigorated”.

The title of the composition refers to the 268 years since the completion of the Octagon Chapel, a church completed in 1756 – a grade II listed building, a fine example of English neo-Palladian architecture – in the town of Norwich, some 190 miles northeast of London, which is where the premiere is to take place, using the church’s pipe organ – dating from 1802 – which is located in the centre of the chapel. With audiences seated in the round, music will fill all corners of the space; light will move around the building and as the sun sets towards the end of the show, the final moments will be experienced in near-darkness. Given its extraordinary length, the composition will be performed by organist James McVinnie – collaborator, among others, of Squarepusher, Nico Muhly or Bryce Dessner – and pianist and violinist Eliza McCarthy, who will take turns during the performance.

Speaking to the British newspaper, Greenwood said that he chose to compose the work for pipe organ because “hearing organ music in churches is really the only way to reliably reproduce the experience of hearing music from hundreds of years ago: it’s the same organ pipes (usually) and the same room. And there’s such richness and complexity in every tone; electronic music, with its reliance of speakers, doesn’t come close.” 

“In its complexity – he added -, it can create the same colourful tones you hear in Indian music – so I felt there was a strong connection between the two things, and approached it with the thought that melodically it could be like a Carnatic (Indian classical) piece of music – where there is no real start/finish, just a sense of ‘climbing on’ a moving wheel”.