LANDSCAPES, KNIVES & GLUE – Radiohead's Kid A Recycled

LANDSCAPES, KNIVES & GLUE – Radiohead's Kid A Recycled

The intelligent rock of Radiohead has captured the imagination of many musicians, from pianist Christopher O’Riley to jazz legend Brad Mehldau. On LANDSCAPES, KNIVES & GLUE – Radiohead’s Kid A Recycled, contemporary classical string quintet Wooden Elephant turns its attention to Radiohead’s 2000 album, Kid A, having previously explored Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Björk’s Homogenic, among others. It’s an extraordinarily inventive and imaginative reinterpretation, an aural tour de force in which Wooden Elephant’s five string players turn to everyday objects, children’s toys and extended instrumental techniques to help reproduce Radiohead’s complex blend of synthesisers, electric guitars, digital effects and, of course, lead singer Thom Yorke’s vocals. “On Kid A, there are sounds that we wanted to create,” arranger and Wooden Elephant’s violist Ian Anderson tells Apple Music, “but we didn’t know how to. Keeping an eye out for something to create that sound became a way of life. I ended up looking at every object and thinking, ‘Can I use that?’” Alongside violins, viola, cello and bass, Wooden Elephant—whose members come from Ireland, Scotland, Bulgaria, Norway and Iceland—have assembled a jaw harp, flexatone, party blower, wine glass, milk frother, toy handbells, bathroom sink plug chain, power drill… The list goes on. Each is used to recreate some aspect of Radiohead’s soundworld. “As classical musicians, we just never get to play this repertoire, and we think it’s some of the best music ever written,” says Wooden Elephant violinist Aoife Ní Bhriain. “We needed to play it in an interesting way so that audiences would want to hear us rather than just listening to the original,” adds Anderson. Here, they guide us through each mesmerising track on this fascinating album. Everything in Its Right Place Ian Anderson: “At the start, there are these cluster chords which give way to the three chords of this track’s bass riff. We wanted to present it as contemporary classical music from the start and not just a straight cover version. But then, out of those contemporary classical techniques come the pop and alternative rock sounds.” Aoife Ní Bhriain: “This track is pretty faithful to the original, but we thought about it as an introduction to the whole album. We didn’t want to overload it with loads of weird instruments.” Kid A Anderson: “We messed around quite a lot with the structure of this one. We took different sections, duplicated some of them and moved them around. This track also uses a technique that we stole from 17th-century composer Heinrich Biber: If you put paper in between the strings of a bass and then hit it with your bow, it sounds like a drum.” The National Anthem Anderson: “We explore another type of distortion here, using bathroom sink plug chains. Some jazz drummers use plug chains on cymbals to create a buzzing effect, so we used that idea but on our instruments. One of the biggest challenges for us is that, in the original, the music just keeps growing and growing. You think it’s at the top and then it grows again. So, for our version, we all get party blowers and at the climax, when we’re playing as loud as we can, we also blow our party blowers!” How to Disappear Completely Ní Bhriain: “I play this B-flat on a wine glass for about two minutes, and then this lovely kind of wavy motion starts coming in. Then I get to play a milk frother with tissue paper tied around it. I have to wet the kitchen roll slightly and let it dry, so it’s a little bit hard. It makes a great sound.” Anderson: “We use what we call our ‘seagulls technique’ a lot at the start, which is where we play long, fast glissandos high up on the strings. It’s one of our go-to techniques.” Treefingers Anderson: “This is the track I’m most proud of and certainly one of my favourites. The sound on the original is really ambient, almost like a synthesiser sound. And to create that, we used EBows—devices that create a sustained sound on a guitar by creating electromagnetic fields, which stimulate steel strings.” Optimistic Anderson: “This track is one of the more straightforward transcriptions and features the first appearance of a timpani-beater on the bass, which gives a really percussive drive. It’s another way of creating a drum effect on string instruments. In the middle section, I use steel wire around my bow, and if I draw it across a string, I get loads of cascading overtones.” In Limbo Anderson: “We made [hanger-shaped bows] ourselves out of toy archery bows. We looked into buying proper ones, but they cost several thousand pounds each. These cost us about £25 each to make. In the middle section, there’s a change of groove. At the time we were rehearsing and creating this track, our bassist, Nikolai, was obsessed with a moment in Bob Marley’s song ‘400 Years’, and he started playing this amazing riff, totally out of the blue. So, we thought we’d incorporate it.” Idioteque Anderson: “One of the problems with transposing pop works onto classical instruments is that, if you remove the vocals and the text, there’s often not a very interesting melodic line. Our problem was how to put that interest back in. And so, on ‘Idioteque’, Aoife gets out the milk frother, but with elastic bands tied to the end this time, and it creates a kind of jittery, anxious sound. Towards the end, I take a power drill with cable ties on the end and put it against the strings to play chords.” Morning Bell Anderson: “This was one of the tracks that we took the most liberties with. On Radiohead’s album, the end of ‘Idioteque’ features the biggest climax, and we wanted everything afterwards to be a coda. To create that two-track coda, we ended up slowing down ‘Morning Bell’. It took on this menacing, dark atmosphere.” Motion Picture Soundtrack Ní Bhriain: “‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ is like the sun coming out behind a really dark, thundery day. At the start, we pick up our out-of-tune harmonicas—they all have pieces of paper on them to try and keep them in tune, but there’s definitely a lot of imperfections in how we play them.” Anderson: “The original track features a pedal organ, and you can hear its inner workings. It’s obviously not in perfect condition, but its imperfections make it even more beautiful for me. Just before the very end, [violinist] Hulda Jónsdóttir takes her bow and she presses down on the back of her violin, creating a sound like a ship creaking. The end of ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ features all these harps, so we transposed that sound onto a music box. It’s like a toy. I find it so beautiful.”

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