Pianist revels in Radiohead


Published: Thursday, January 13, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2005 at 9:54 p.m.
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Pianist Christopher O'Riley performs Friday at University Auditorium.

Courtesy of Christopher O'Riley

Facts

Christopher O'Riley

WHAT: Pianist performs the music of Radiohead and Shostakovich
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday WHERE: University Auditorium, UF campus TICKETS: $15-$25 (352-392-2787)

Trying to cover a Radiohead song well is almost an exercise in futility; the complicated harmonies and multi-layered soundscapes create a daunting challenge for even the most seasoned professional musicians.
Christopher O'Riley laughs in the face of that challenge, for he hasn't just covered the 20th century rock icons' songs, he's done it all on a single piano. In 2003, the classical pianist released "True Love Waits,"a CD of Radiohead interpretations that snagged four stars from Rolling Stone magazine.
Josef Woodard of The Los Angeles Times noted O'Riley's "refined touch and musicality add sophistication to pop music."
"Before I heard it, I thought there was no way anyone could play 'Paranoid Android' simply with a piano," said University of Florida student Lee Coelho. "But once I heard it, I knew this guy was the real deal."
Kicking off a short national tour at the University Auditorium on Friday, the 48-year-old pianist will play selections from his Radiohead tribute. O'Riley's performance also will feature selections by composer Dmitri Shostakovich.
O'Riley began playing piano at age 4 and has been playing classical music most of his life. He said he decided to start translating Radiohead songs to piano because he's attracted to music that has interesting harmonies and textures.
England's Radiohead is one of the more iconic alt-rock bands of the last 10 years. Its 1993 debut "Pablo Honey" yielded the haunting, guitar-crunching anthem "Creep." Follow-up albums range from the critically adored "OK Computer" to the outwardly political "Hail to the Thief" to the quite-possibly-insane "Kid A."
Translating Radiohead's dense musical scores into something that can be played with 10 fingers and 88 keys is no easy task, considering O'Riley did it without any sheet music or other outside help.
"It's totally by ear," he said. "I usually just play with a song for a while and eventually come up with a way that gives me the same feeling playing it that I get while listening to my favorite performances of it."
Considering his unique and wholly unstructured approach, these songs end up with his personal stamp.
"(I basically did it by) listening to it 1,000 times and finding a way of translating it that worked for me," O'Riley said. "Mostly it (consists of) the sound of the guitar plus trying to get some sense of the rhythm without banging away on the chords in some sort of old rock 'n' roll, piano style."
But as much as he loves interpreting Radiohead songs on piano, O'Riley doesn't think all songs lend themselves to translation.
"There are a lot of Radiohead songs that I like that I would never do," O'Riley said. "For example, I think 'Creep' would sound incredibly stupid on piano."
O'Riley is scheduled to release another set of Radiohead recordings, titled "Hold Me To This," on April 12 on World Village Records.

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