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Sound Up: Jóhann Jóhannsson (Iceland)
December 12, 20:00
Zaryadye Concert Hall Zaryadye Concert Hall

Jóhann Jóhannsson (1969-2018) was an Icelandic composer who wrote music for a wide array of media including theatre, dance, television and films. His work is stylised by its blending of traditional orchestration with contemporary electronic elements.

Jóhann released solo albums from 2002 onward. In 2016, he signed with Deutsche Grammophon, through which he released his last solo album, "Orphée". Some of his works in film include the original scores for Denis Villeneuve's "Prisoners", "Sicario", and "Arrival", and James Marsh's "The Theory of Everything". Jóhann was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score for both "The Theory of Everything" and "Sicario', and won a Golden Globe for Best Original Score for "The Theory of Everything". He was a music and sound consultant on "Mother!", directed by Darren Aronofsky in 2017. His scores for "Mary Magdalene" and "Mandy" were released posthumously.

Jóhann was born on September 19, 1969 in Reykjavík, Iceland to Jóhann Gunnarsson and Edda Thorkelsdóttir. He learned piano and trombone from age 11, but had given them up by the time he went on to study languages and literature at the University of Iceland. Jóhann started his musical career in the late 1980s in the proto-shoegaze influenced band "Daisy Hill Puppy Farm" who released a couple of EPs which were played by British DJ John Peel and received a fan letter from Steve Albini. He went on to work as a guitarist and producer playing in Icelandic indie rock bands, like Olympia, Unun and Ham. In 1999, Jóhann co-founded "Kitchen Motors", a think tank, art organisation and music label that encouraged interdisciplinary collaborations between artists from punk, jazz, classical, metal and electronic music. His own sound arose out of these musical experimentations.

Jóhann's first solo album, "Englabörn", was a suite based on the music written for the theatre piece of the same name. Jóhann approached the composition by recording string instruments and processing them through digital filters, which allowed him to deconstruct the recordings and reassemble them. The album combined holy minimalism, Satie, Purcell and Moondog with the electronic music of labels such as Mille Plateaux and Mego. Pitchfork gave "Englabörn" a score of 8.9, and described it as "exceptionally restrained, the piano moving like droplets off of slowly melting icicles, the violin breathing warmth from above. The hesitation of each breath and falling bead feels as though it were a Morton Feldman piece condensed to three minutes."

For Jóhann's second album "Virðulegu Forsetar", an hour-long ambient piece, he used an orchestra of 11 brass players, glockenspiel, piano and organ, with added bells and electronics, creating a sound that combined classical, ambient and experimental music.

"IBM 1401, A User's Manual", Jóhann's fourth studio album, was released on 30 October 2006 on the 4AD label. It was inspired by his father, an IBM engineer and one of Iceland's first computer programmers, who used early hardware to compose melodies during his downtime at work. Jóhann used sounds produced from the electromagnetic emissions of the IBM 1401 as part of the composition.

"Fordlandia", Jóhann's sixth full-length studio album, was released in November 2008 via 4AD, and was thematically influenced by the failure of Henry Ford's Brazilian rubber plant Fordlândia.

In 2010, Jóhann collaborated with filmmaker Bill Morrison on "The Miners' Hymns" (2011), a film and accompanying composition for a brass band, pipe organ and electronics, based on coal-mining in County Durham. The film was noted for celebrating "social, cultural, and political aspects of the extinct industry, and the strong regional tradition of colliery brass bands". The overall piece was itself a tribute to the miners strikes which occurred in the area during the 1980s. The album was described by the BBC as "a gorgeous brass-based requiem for northeast England's former mining community".

Jóhann had scored a number of works concurrent with his solo career through the 2000s including the Icelandic comedy "Dis" in 2004, TV series "Svartir englar" in 2007, and "In the Arms of My Enemy" in 2007. However it was his work with Denis Villeneuve for which he is best known. His first collaboration with Villeneuve was "Prisoners" in 2013. He subsequently worked on Villeneuve's films "Sicario" (2015) which was nominated for Academy Award for Best Original Score and Arrival in 2016. Jóhann joined Villeneuve once again to work on "Blade Runner 2049", at some point during production, Villeneuve decided that the music needed a change in direction.

Jóhann's work on James Marsh's "The Theory of Everything" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score at the 2015 Academy Awards and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score. His final works were for the films "Mandy", "The Mercy", and "Mary Magdalene".

Though Jóhann is no longer with us (he died in 2018), his music will live on and will for the first time be performed in Moscow by those musicians who have been lucky to work with him or admired his work. The concert is curated by Jóhann's close friend Larus Johannesson and will bring together famous Icelandic and Russian artists.

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