In memoriam Jóhann Jóhannsson

by 5:4

First encounters can be unforgettable. Mine was in 2006, and it was the result of an entirely random purchase of an entirely random imported music magazine (German, i think) that contained a disc featuring a cluster of forgettable audio trifles plus a music video. When i hit play on that video, time suddenly started to slow down, and i became transfixed and deeply moved by the enormity of the music’s unusual mix of melancholy and beauty. The music was ‘The Sun’s Gone Dim and the Sky’s Turned Black’, by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, whose sudden death has been reported in the last few hours. He was just 48.

i can’t claim to be an expert in Jóhannsson’s music. i love IBM 1401, A User’s Manual, the album of which ‘The Sun’s Gone Dim’ is the stunning final track, and i know a smattering of his other solo works. Being a movie addict, i’m also fond of the film scores of his that i’ve encountered thus far – particularly Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival – though as i still haven’t yet seen Sicario and Prisoners there remains much for me to explore. i’m certainly not going to miss The Mercy, which has just been released in the UK and has a Jóhannsson score, and there’s a couple more films still to come that feature his work.

Even though there’s a great deal of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s music that i have yet to encounter, all i’ve heard thus far has testified to a composer with a unique sensitivity, capable in both his studio work and film scores of creating the most nuanced and above all human music, never contrived or ordinary, with an immediacy that i find genuinely uncanny. From the heart to the heart, indeed. i was reflecting on Jóhannsson last autumn, specifically how he had been replaced in Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, which i think was unfortunate – i would have loved to have seen that movie with a Jóhannsson score (it would certainly have been far more inventive than Hans Zimmer’s ersatz Vangelis knock-off) – as well as the mutual decision by both Jóhannsson and Darren Aronofsky to refrain from creating a score for Aronofsky’s mother!. Considering that mother! turned out to be one of the most brilliant films not just of 2017, but ever, i was deeply impressed by a composer who recognised that there’s a time not to make music, that sometimes what’s needed is just the gentlest whiff of something that may not even be recognised as deliberate sound, which can speak with infinitely greater force and authenticity.

In so many ways Jóhann Jóhannsson has impressed me since that unexpected first encounter nearly 11 years ago. i’m shocked and very sad indeed that he’s no longer with us, but i’m determined to make sure that i now get on with listening to everything else that he made while he was with us. i’ve no doubt there’ll be many more wonderful encounters to come. Rest in peace, Jóhann.

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Chris L

A sad loss indeed. Re: Crowhurst, though, I think I’ll be sticking ith the classic book about him, Jóhannsson soundtrack or no Jóhannsson soundtrack – I’m with those who argue that the only way to begin to understand what was really going on inside the man’s head is to read his own words, intelligently interpreted.

Chris L

ADDENDUM: The soundtrack to The Mercy is well worth listening to in its own right, although quite a lot of it appears to hail from earlier works by Jóhannsson, e.g. Orphée. Still not straying beyond the Crowhurst biography, though – quite apart from anything else, as Peter Bradshaw puts it, “[t]he problem is that Colin Firth looks like a natural leader, a natural winner: he is more of a Francis Chichester, not a Donald Crowhurst”. Also, as with Gesualdo, too much time spent in Crowhurst’s company can do very strange things to the mind…

Right, up next on my Jóhannsson-appraisal odyssey are Sicario (which I have seen, and which I recall has quite a powerful soundtrack) and IBM

Chris L

FURTHER ADDENDUM: I’ve commented far too much on here of late, potentially at others’ expense, but I just wanted to add that I’ve now listened to IBM, and agree that The Sun’s Gone Dim and the Sky’s Turned Black is a stunning way to close an album…although certain similarities did lead me to wonder whether Jóhannsson had prior familiarity with the work of Spiritualized, and specifically this before he wrote it (not that I’m suggesting conscious plagiarism, I should stress)…

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