From his membership of bands Radiohead and The Smile to his film scoring work on the likes of There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread, Jonny Greenwood has proved his musical versatility over and over.   

His latest composition, the eight-hour piece 268 Years of Reverb, will have its premiere at this year’s Norfolk & Norwich Festival at the Octagon Chapel, where it will be performed in-person by organists James McVinnie and Eliza McCarthy.  

We caught up with Jonny to discuss its creation.  

Tell us a little bit about where the piece came from and more about what inspired you.

It came 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.   

Can you explain why you chose the organ for this composition?  

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, 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.  

Eastern Daily Press: Organist Eliza McCarthyOrganist Eliza McCarthy (Image: Euan Danks)

We hear that you personally selected the Octagon Chapel in Norwich for the premiere of the work. Can you tell us what drew you to the room?  

It’s a perfect space because the room centres on – seemingly is built around – the organ.  

The piece is eight hours long – how did it get to be so big and does it follow a particular musical construction?  

Because it’s a full frequency sweep: and, during the course of it, there’s lots of colour and complexity. And, to be honest, if you play it any quicker it just sounds as silly as a sped-up voice.   

Though I appreciate the thought of eight hours of music will strike most people as equally silly. It doesn’t repeat, and every bar is different, so there is a kind of momentum and tension to it.  

People are invited to book for either the whole eight hours or in time slots of one hour 50 minutes. Can you compare the two experiences?  

The beginning and end are, in the room anyway, fairly minimal: the music is passing through the building, so the middle section is where it has the most presence.  

It will be hard to take all eight hours at once, of course: people will have better things to do. But it’s right for the music.  

Tell us the significance of 268 years.  

It’s the age of the Octagon Chapel. The music has a different name in every room it’s played: so, in a new-built room and organ, it could be called “One Day of Reverb” or “One Week”.   

The history of each room, and what has previously made sound and music there, interests me very much.  

That live performance that happens once, and just disappears into the walls or a room, is such a strange event when we are used to the identical repetition of recordings.   

You are working with two organists, James McVinnie and Eliza McCarthy – do they each bring something unique to the piece? Tell us why you chose to work with them.  

They have the patience and stamina to play the thing – and the passion for the instrument that inspired me to finish writing it.   

Eastern Daily Press: James McVinnie is one of two organists performing the compositionJames McVinnie is one of two organists performing the composition (Image: Graham Lacdao)

Finally, we are delighted you chose to present this new work at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival. Is Norwich an important place to you?  

I don’t believe I’ve been since Radiohead played there in the 1990s – this will be a very different concert, I think!  

268 Years of Reverb will take place in the Octogon Chapel on Saturday, May 18 from 2pm. For more information, or to book, visit