Neil Milton is an artist working under the name Beneath Us, The Waves. He also runs a record label Too Many Fireworks and used to be one half of the much admired photography outfit We Sink Ships. Here he takes some time to explain his love of Jonny Greenwood, the man and the music.
There are few musicians that provoke quite such an emotional reaction in me as Radiohead’s resident “mad scientist” Jonny Greenwood. To describe my 16 year long relationship with the man and his music, is to talk of part obsessive fanboyism and part influential musical guiding star.
I came to Radiohead, like many others, in 1995 with the release of their second album, The Bends but it was the aggressive, muted crunch of Greenwood’s guitar during my first, retrospective, listen to the band’s breakthrough single, Creep, that hooked me. On Grant Gee’s documentary Meeting People Is Easy, Jonny’s fellow Radiohead guitarist, Ed O’Brien, explains that Jonny disliked the song so much, he did this to ruin the take but inadvertently made the song. His experimenting with alternative uses of guitar or the sounds it makes continued through The Bends album most notably using a Digitech Whammy pedal to pitch shift his guitar for songs like Just and My Iron Lung and using a coin to scrape at his strings through a Roland Space Echo on High and Dry.
Until 1997, Radiohead were still considered, by the indolent British music press at least, part of the “Britpop” movement but this changed irrevocably after the release of what many believe to be their magnum Opus, OK Computer. Greenwood’s guitar on OK Computer (combined, I have to admit, with Idlewild’s Rod Jones’ early freneticism) became the driving influence behind my undeniable need to start a band. As an eighteen year old, only 2 years a guitar player, I was in awe. How did he create those sounds?
Though Jonny’s prowess on guitar is undisputed, he is, of course, very much more than “Radiohead’s lead guitarist”. Through the two Radiohead albums that followed, he cultivated his interest and talents in sequencing, MaxMSP, modular synthesis, Ondes Martenot and orchestral composition; my own interest in each of these comes, at least in part, from Greenwood’s influence, especially from that Kid A / Amnesiac period. Further to this, it was in an NME article around this time that Jonny mentioned an album he had, called OHM – The Early Gurus of Electronic Music. It was one that was to throw open the world of electronic music to me like never before.
In 2004, Greenwood was hired as the BBC Concert Orchestra’s composer in residence, and though my interest in classical music stretches back to my last years in school, I had rarely looked outside the sphere of household names such as Mozart, Bach, Holst, Schubert and my favourite, Chopin. It was through Jonny’s BBC Concert Orchestra commissions that I learned of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki (Popcorn Superhet Receiver, for instance, is influenced by Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima) and French composer, Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie (a work that influences many of Greenwood’s Ondes Martenot compositions).
Recently – only 16 months ago – I returned to writing music after several years of photography as my creative output of choice. Unlike the music performed in the band I was in previously, the music now is occasionally more electronic and certainly rooted more strongly in classical music. Admittedly Jonny Greenwood is only one of my several cited influences. The most relevant? Maybe. The longest standing? Without a doubt.