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An unmatched appetite to make music:
Jóhann Jóhannsson

Blog
An unmatched appetite to make music: Jóhann Jóhannsson

31.07.2018

Text: Cem Kayıran
Illustration: Saydan Akşit

Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who was known for his solo albums as well as his work for television and stage, lost his life last February, at the early age of 48. Here is a look back at the highlights from Jóhannsson’s short yet prolific and rich musical career.

*Jóhannsson started to learn trombone and piano at an early age. His proto-shoegaze band from 80’s, Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, attracted the attention of important names from the music scene, like John Peel and Steve Albini.

*Jóhannsson spent the 90’s both as a producer and a guitarist in various Iceland based alternative rock groups. In 1999, he co-founded the think-tank, record label and art collective Kitchen Motors, with the vision of encouraging people from different musical backgrounds and traditions to come and create together. And not only albums; but also books, exhibitions, special performances and radio shows...

*Working for Kitchen Motors, Jóhannsson developed an interest in improvised and electronic music. In this environment, he was inspired to form one of the most popular electronica bands of the country, Apparat Organ Quartet, which brought together four organists. The band served their first tracks with the compilations released by Kitchen Works, and later released 2 albums from the important Iceland record label, 12 Tónar.

*While also creating various sound installations and collaborating with names like Pan Sonic, Barry Adamson; Jóhannsson released his first solo album, Englabörn, in 2002. The album, which was recorded for a play with the same name and received high praise from music authorities, created impressive layers from a string quartet, organ, percussion and electronic sounds.

*The Icelandic musician recorded a pretty crowded orchestra for his second album, Virðulegu Forsetar, which was released from Touch. After his second album, Jóhannsson became a part of the 4AD family and his first album from this label, IBM 1401, A User’s Manual, was inspired by his father, who was known as the first programmer of Iceland, and the recordings he did with his IBM computer. With his thematic and meticulously edited albums, Jóhannsson was never afraid to show the different corners of his musical imagination.

*After the 4AD albums, Jóhannsson focused more on film music and continued his impressive collaborations. One of the most striking works from his career came with End Of Summer album, which he recorded together with Hildur Guðnadóttir and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe. He collaborated with Hildur Guðnadóttir again for the music of Iceland television series, Trapped.

*Jóhann Jóhannsson created a lot of music for Icelandic cinema in 2000’s, and one of the most special items in his discography was the music for Bill Morrison’s unusual documentary, The Miners’ Hymns, which was released by FatCat.

*In the 2010’s, Jóhannsson made music for documentaries like Free The Mind and White Black Boy. 2013 saw his first collaboration with Denis Villeneuve, whose maturing cinema found its musical counterpart in Jóhannsson’s work. Villeneuve and Jóhannsson worked together for the films Sicario and Arrival. Jóhannsson also composed for Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 but this music ended up not being used in the film. 

*In 2014, Jóhannsson received an Oscar for the music of Marsh’s The Theory of Everything. His music for Arrival also brought him an award at World Soundtrack Awards ceremony. Receiving many Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations with his film music, Jóhannsson’s 2016 LP, Orphée, which was inspired by various Orpheus myths and released by the prestigious record label Deutsche Grammophon, had a powerful effect on the music scene.

*Jóhannsson’s musical legacy keeps on inspiring both his contemporary peers and the later generations. After his death in Berlin last February, the soundtracks from his second collaboration with James Mash, The Mercy, as well as the music for one of this year’s most debated films, Mary Magdalene, released as albums. 

*Deutsche Grammophon became one of the first to pay tribute to the musician with a re-release of Jóhannsson’s first solo album, with different versions of some of the songs. This special album, named Englabörn + Variations, also features remixes from the musician’s long time collaboraters such as Ryuichi Sakamoto, Hildur Guðnadóttir and Vikingur Olaffson.

*Leaving this world at an early age, Jóhannsson’s body of music, expanding into different disciplines and methods, showcased a rich musical versatility and vision. Being one of the most exciting composers of 2000’s, it is also a fact that there are still corners yet to be explored in Jóhannsson’s short yet impressive musical journey.

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