Jóhann Jóhannsson

Mixtape #50 : Remix

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The new 5:4 mixtape is a celebration of the art of the remix. However, i should stress immediately that the emphasis here is not simply on that word’s implied legacy of beats and dance-based forms of music. The scope for this particular mixtape is altogether more broad and open-minded, exploring some of the most unusual, unpredictable and unhinged ways that musicians have rethought, rearranged and reimagined both their own and others’ existing musical material.

Some tracks are more closely associated with the diverse songworlds of pop, rock and electronica – including Gazelle Twin, Nine Inch Nails, Björk, Kate HavnevikThe Irrepressibles, Marina & the DiamondsBeastie Boys, Erotic MarketSusanne Sundfør and Belle and Sebastian – though in some cases the ways that their music has been remixed establishes a sizeable distance from the original. Indeed, in the case of Björk’s ‘Crave (Odd Duck Mix)’ – a remix created by Matmos that was made available as a download from Björk’s website in 2001, and is no longer available – it’s by no means immediately obvious that the track is actually a remix of her song (from Vespertine) ‘An Echo, a Stain’.

Away from songs, i’ve included a number of tracks that occupy dream-like soundworlds of varying levels of stability, comfort and drift. At the more abrasive and/or disquieted end of the spectrum are the likes of Fovea HexAM and the UV, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Shinkei + Mise_en_scene, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz EnsembleBrian ReitzellKim Cascone and Ektoise, while more sublime environments are found in the music of Ryuichi SakamotoAndrew LilesJonathan Coleclough & Colin PotterCarl Sagan’s GhostMissy MazzoliBen Frost, Sylvain Pohu and Christina Vantzou. Something of an odd one out in the mix as a whole is the track by World’s End Girlfriend, a wonderfully bonkers oddity by an artist whose work i’ve never managed properly to get my head around.

Structurally, it’s pretty much a stream of consciousness, with me more than usually just following my nose, and as a consequence the mixtape veers quite wildly between periods of calmness and seriously ramped-up intensity. Having said that, i’ve started and ended with a pair of tracks that complement each other as an effective overture and finale to the mix as a whole. Access to Arasaka‘s remix of Klangstabil marries elements of dark ambient with glitched beats and electronics, whereas Techdiff‘s grime and dubstep-infused remix of Hecq & Exillon‘s ‘Spheres of Fury’ is quite simply the most accomplished and downright exhilarating remix i’ve ever heard by anyone, retaining an obvious connection to the original while transmogrifying it into a structurally dramatic foray through a series of rhythmically discrete episodes, culminating in the equivalent of a firework display of beats triggered by a barrage of interconnected machine guns. Just amazing.

Two hours of radical reinterpretations; here’s the tracklisting in full, together with links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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In memoriam Jóhann Jóhannsson

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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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Mixtape #28 : Speech

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For the last mixtape of 2013, i’ve decided to explore music in which speech is paramount. Within a musical context, spoken words can jar in much the same way as an actor breaking the fourth wall, unsettling us by (ostensibly at least) withholding abstraction in favour of direct reference. The range of pieces included in the mix is more eclectic than usual, drawing on offcuts, afterthoughts and outtakes (Hecq, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Kreng, Aphex Twin), filtered renderings, recreations and re-imaginings of speech (Cabaret Voltaire, Charles Dodge, John Hudak, Gregory Whitehead, Marc Behrens, Jean-Michel Jarre) as well as forms of non-singing (AGF and the peerless William Shatner). But most of the tracks exploit the spoken word through fascinating essays in obscure narrative, by turns sinister (Eugene S. Robinson), prosaic (Jóhann Jóhannsson, Anne-James Chaton), sexual (Andrew Liles), wistful (Steve Peters), intimate (Edward Ka-Spel), surreal (Olga Neuwirth, irr. app. (ext.)), poetic (John Wall/Alex Rodgers), combative (Frank Zappa) and philosophical (Adrian Moore).

A little over two hours of speech-inspired music and sound art; here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Mixtape #1 : Late Night

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There was a discussion on Radio 4 yesterday, about a possible link between creativity and the late night. i have no opinion on this, except insofar as i have had some highly productive late night composing sessions. A lot of my listening to music takes place at night, however, and i think it’s a very special time indeed to engage with it. To that end, and just for fun, i’ve compiled my own little mixtape containing a number of the things i’m listening to at the moment (some old, some new; many mentioned in my posts over the last few months), tracks which heighten in intensity when listened to (preferably, very) late at night. 68 minutes of wonder, seamlessly stitched together for your pleasure…

Here’s the full tracklisting: Read more

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From the ridiculous (via noise) to the sublime

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When any series comes to an end, it’s an emotional experience, and so it was yesterday when the last two CDs in Andrew Liles‘ 12-CD Vortex Vault series dropped through my letterbox. Black Pool and Black End mark the conclusion of an amazingly prodigious cycle of discs, released once a month, beginning at the end of 2006. Andrew Liles’ music was one of my biggest discoveries from last year, recommended to me by the equally remarkable Matt Waldron (irr. app. (ext.)). There’s a fascinating mix of both the beautiful and the disturbing in his music, with highly evocative (and sometimes, very funny) titles, including “Bamboo Sheep”, “An Unspoken Narrative Regarding Institutional Abuse”, “Ghost Breath – A Lament For A Bear Cub Called Медвежонок”, “Taking Bumblebee to France for the Afternoon”, “36-23-33½” and “Matthew Doesn’t Like Bananas in his Ice Cream”. These titles are often frivolous, but sometimes rather more deliberate: “The Jean Michel and Vangelis Taboo Liaison”, for example, explores the kinds of sounds beloved of those two “composers”. He’s capable of real gravitas too, though, and the final piece on Black End is like an electroacoustic/symphonic finale to the series (quixotically broken up into 94 tracks!). Read more

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