Understanding Chaos with Krzysztof Penderecki and Jonny Greenwood

I can’t say I’d been madly impatient about this concert. In fact it was more curiosity that led me to it than anything else — collaborations of so completely different artists tend to be rather unpredictable and can go both ways. To be honest, I feared it’s going to be a complete trainwreck.

And it was, but in a mind-blowing, brilliant way…


Before I proceed any further, you should probably know something about me. You see as much as I love order and predictability, I’m more of a chaos admirer. I was about 15 years old when my cousin introduced me to a Chaos Theory, which was something that probably steered my life onto a path I’m following now. What is all this theory you may ask? Without going too deep into details let me give you a quick example.

Since the beginning of human thought (it really had to be started like this;) people tried to describe and explain everything. After so many years we know and can do so many things but all this progress results in unproportionally large amount of new questions. Can you describe a cloud? Sure you can. Do you know how it works? Of course. But can you do it with mathematical equation?

No, it’s not impossible!

As my old teacher used to say, there are no impossible things, just very hard to achieve. This is also my personal definition of chaos — it’s not an uncontrollable mess, oh no. What it is, is an unimaginably complex, multidimensional order that no human brain can ever comprehend.

What does it have to do with the concert? Everything.

Krzysztof Penderecki and Jonny Greenwood

I’m not going to lie —I don’t know Penderecki’s music that well, but what I heard last night was exactly how I imagined being given a brief moment of  understanding of all the Chaos out there.

That kind of knowledge is difficult and dangerous. It’ll make your body tense, you’ll get annoying waves of goose bumps and your sweating palms will be closed into fists waiting for unknown things to happen. You will not be able to find a comfortable position in your seat and so you will end up leaning forward hoping those 30cm closer to the source of the sound would make you comprehend it better.

It’s a bit like chasing a woman of your dreams — you can see her silhouette at the end of the street just before she disappears behind the corner. More of a scent than actual shape. You can’t see her face, or, in fact, any other detail, yet you keep running after her just so she could keep disappearing beyond your reach.

Annoying, unnerving and beautiful.

It seems to me Penderecki knows it very well and toys with the audience. When his compositions end there’s this eerie, dead silence filling Barbican’s auditorium as if everyone didn’t expect music to stop, still chasing after their own answers.


Greenwood’s music, on the other hand, is different.

One could think that spending majority of his career with Radiohead would influence his compositions, but it doesn’t seem to be the issue.

Sure, they’re cleaner, more obvious at times but all of it is rather misleading. If you relax yourself too much, they will knock you down in a matter of seconds. Also the longer you listen to them, the more intense they become, travelling in directions nobody can predict.

The funny thing is, even if, for some reason, you decided to ignore the sound and observe the orchestra instead, you would be surprised by the way they worked together. It’s not your usual harmony we all know from regular classical concerts — the movements oscillate between pure, powerful raw symmetry and untamed storms of jitters. Sometimes they work as one man, almost like a massive wheel rolling in one direction to suddenly use some kind of rattle-boxes instead of their bows turning into a mass of football hooligans lookalikes.

I can’t even imagine how difficult must it be for a musician to keep up with such a complicated combinations of sounds and emotions. Not mentioning the unusual abuse of their instruments.

Impressive AKUSO Tychy Chamber Orchiestra, impressive indeed.

Krzysztof Penderecki, Jonny Greenwood and Marek Moś in Barbican, London


Finally here comes the twist — something you don’t usually expect when going for a symphonic concert. And with all my deep love for the music presented yesterday, I strongly believe it wouldn’t hit me as much if not for the visual side, which it was effectively dressed in.

The first thing everyone noticed when entering Barbican’s concert hall was a massive, stage-wide digital display. I thought it would be used for some kind of close-ups on the orchestra, but I couldn’t be more wrong.

Two very clever gentlemen — Marcin Bania and Maciej Malinowski — were somehow able to read composer’s minds and rather than explain the music on the screens, which would likely be a complete disaster, they matched it visually. And you know what? They referred to exactly what I was talking about at the beginning of this article — Chaos Theory. Incredibly inspiring shapes, colours, symmetries and asymmetries — it was just there. All that matched with supersharp lighting design by Grzegorz Barszczewski and you got yourself an audiovisual feast.

It may sound completely random for many of you, but flying through a 3 dimensional Merger-Sierpinski sponge fractal  to the sound of Polymorphia while being flooded with intense blood-like light is just mind-boggling. And unforgettable.

Screengrab of Marcin Bania's and Maciej Malinowski's fractal visualisations

To sum up – the concert left me with a headache pulsating from parts of my head I did not know existed. It left me dumbfounded but at the same time giving a faint sensation of understanding the world a bit more. Perhaps it’s nothing more than an illusion, an innocent and self-inflicted lie, but it made me feel good and somehow satisfied.

Also craving raw meat and a threesome but that’s a different story(;

Having said that, I’m not 100% sure whether I should recommend buying Penderecki’s and Greenwood’s album, as it will be very difficult to recreate such a rich live experience even on the best HiFi rig. I imagine it may be even painful to listen at times, so it’s your call, but if you ever have a chance to see them perform, do so!

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