On 18 May James McVinnie and Eliza McCarthy premiere Jonny Greenwood’s x years of reverb at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival - an eight-hour work for organ that will run from two till ten pm at the Octagon Chapel, Norwich. There the piece will be presented as 268 years of reverb, reflecting the Octagon Chapel’s age – the title of the work is designed to be adapted for whichever church or performance space in in which it appears; across its span, audiences for the work can observe the changing light as day and night unfold.  

The piece, Greenwood says, “was written to summon all the music, voices and sounds that have ever filled the air and soaked into the walls of a room: to shake or coax them out of the fabric of the building, so they can be heard again - distilled and concentrated into eight hours.”

He continues:

“The organ is the lungs and voice of any building where it is installed. In an old church, for example, air is going through the same organ pipes, in the same space, that other listeners have experienced for centuries. So, hearing church organs is a kind of time travel, the closest we have to faithfully reproducing ancient sound…season after season spent celebrating, commiserating, praising, mourning, to the same recorded sounds. This time is measured over generations, though the rituals of the church, and is a reminder that churches are the repository for the books of parish records as well as Bibles.”

x years of reverb is influenced by the approach to melody in Indian classical music, where new notes are introduced very gradually into improvised solos: “the arrival of each note is so long-awaited”, Greenwood says, “that its arrival is a revelation of a new world”. The drone of the tanpura, fundamental to that musical tradition, creates harmonics and overtones that compound the complexity of beauty of its textures, which also introduces a degree of tension to its meditative character; such melodies are conceived of in circular rather than linear terms, as if climbing onto a wheel. Reflecting this, the first and last chords of Greenwood’s piece incorporate notes below and above audible frequencies - the music passes across the room as it passes across the audible spectrum, in the same way a rainbow is only the narrow range of the visible spectrum amongst all possible frequencies of light. 

The drone of the tanpura is central to Greenwood’s Water (2014), in which one or two appear alongside 2 flutes, amplified upright piano, chamber organ/sampler keyboard, & string orchestra. The 18-minute piece, whose title is inspired by a Philip Larkin poem, was originally commissioned and recorded by the Australian Chamber Orchestra and receives its Dutch premiere from the Amsterdam Sinfonietta led by Daniel Bard, touring venues across the Netherlands from 10 May as part of their Philip Glass in India programme – full details here.