Mini Interview: Jonny Greenwood
Jonny Greenwood is a composer, guitar player and programmer.
What got you started?
With programming? Well, a friend of Nigel Godrich (our producer) told him I should use Max, because it’s what they were teaching at his music college. He was right! It was the first time I got to reconnect properly with computers. I used to love them – I grew up programming home computers for fun, playing around first with Basic, then these primitive hex assemblers. Just simple bits of machine code – the closer I got to the bare bones of the computer, the more exciting I found it.
Encountering computers in recording studios was always a bit disappointing when we were starting out. I found that early music software really off-putting: cubase, logic, all those programs seemed desperate for you to write in 4/4 at 120 bpm and loop the first 4 bars. You were always being led down a certain route – despite the supposed limitless directions you could go in.
So when I started on Max I felt like I’d got past all that, and didn’t have to use someone else’s idea of what a delay, or a reverb, or a sequencer should do, or should sound like – I could start from the ground, and think in terms of sound and maths. It was like coming off the rails. Before there was all this padding between the computer and me. Now there was a blank screen as a starting point…..
How do you know when something you are working on is finished?
With patches? It’s always like that old board game mouse-trap: a lot of time building the patch, then a satisfying moment (if it works) when all moving parts mesh together, and process your ideas into the unlistenable nonsense you’ve just spent days working on. So satisfying when it works though! My work is really messy I’m afraid – presentation mode or not – and notoriously unreliable. My patches are the equivalent of old cars – you need to tinker with the engine every few miles just to keep them running. Drives Thom crazy…..
When do you like to use chance or random processes?
The whole time. The RTC toolkit is a great for that. Though human random processes are also very interesting to me – especially when string orchestras are involved, you just get so much unrepeatable complexity so quickly.
What’s something that you would like to be able to do with technology in your work but you can’t at the moment?
Zero latency would be nice…..and not to have Nigel Godrich (our producer) saying every five minutes when we’re recording: “that’s a great sound from Max, but could you get rid of the clicks”. Actually, that’s not as true as it used to be.
What inspires you?
The cycling 74 forums are just wonderful. Full of kind encouragement and sharp thinking. Outside of that, I just rely on the mistakes I make when copying other peoples ideas, and then following wherever they lead.
What is the most difficult obstacle you need to overcome in order to do your thing?
I’m still a bit confused about the maths behind some of the signal-driven things in Max. And I’d also like to understand everything about fft stuff. something about phrases like ‘imaginary time domain’ always makes my head hurt…..