Iceland's composer Johann Johannsson specialized in grandiose constructs for orchestra, choir and electronics. After Englaborn (Touch, 2002 - DG, 2018), a droning soundtrack for a stage play scored for chamber instruments, percussion, electronics, piano, harmonium and voices, and fragmented in 16 short pieces,
Johannsson found his true calling with the hour-long ambient sonata
Virthulegu Forsetar (Touch, 2004) for eleven brass players, keyboards and bells.
The first movement sets the tone with its
gentle, slowly-unfolding drones juxtaposed to
glitchy hyper-bass turbulence/flatulence.
It sounds like a church-like version of Brian Eno's Music for Airports
before it pauses and then resumes again, a tactic that Johannsson follows
in every movement to restore the listener's attention.
The second movement feels like a funereal baroque adagio. It
dies after six minutes but then reawakens and the trumpets intone an
anthemic motif before the placid resigned ending.
The third movement takes almost ten minutes to coalesce in an organic melody.
The fourth movement provides an angelic ending, initially sprinkled with bells,
an understated symphony of tones that
halfway rises solemn, moving, then dies for a few minutes,
then rises one last time.
After the film soundtrack Dis (Worker's Institute, 2005), devoted to a Michael Nyman-esque take on orchestral kitsch, the wall of (orchestral) sound further increased on
IBM 1401 A User's Manual (4AD, 2006), an "opera" about a historical computer.
The orchestral Part 1/ IBM 1401 Processing Unit is oddly romantic for
a piece dedicated to a machine, radiating a naive sense of yearning.
The orchestral counterpoint reaches an unusual (for him) degree of
complexity, tempo and loudness in Part 3/ IBM 1402 Card Read-Punch.
Waves of melody flood Part 4/ IBM 729 II Magnetic Tape Unit.
The machine sings through a vocoder in
Part 5/ The Sun's Gone Dim And The Sky's Turned Black,
a tender robotic carillon-like melody that
Laurie Anderson would have liked
with an arrangement that sounds like vintage
Fordlandia (4AD, 2008), the second part of the trilogy about technology.
unwound a looping symphonic adagio a` la Pachelbel, the 13-minute
a series of variations for guitar and orchestra over the same melody.
The 15-minute symphonic poem How We Left Fordlandia is basically an
ecstatic version of the same idea.
The nine-minute crescendo of Melodia, one of Johannson's most energetic
compositions, has a Dvorak-ian exuberance that almost spills into Slavic folk dance.
A completely different musician was the one who contributed
to the hilaarious
Apparat Organ Quartet (founded in 1999), consisting of four keyboardist
and a percussionist, who debuted with the futuristic synth-pop of
Apparat Organ Quartet (Skelt, 2002), notably the
robotic disco-music of Stereo Rock & Roll,
The Anguish of Space Time , almost a tribute to
Todd Rundgren's Utopia,
the emphatic horror sci-fi waltz of Seremonia,
Global Capital, which sounds like a remix of Eddy Grant's Electric Avenue (1982).
Eight years later they followed it up with Polyfonia (12 Tonar, 2010),
containing the effervescent march Babbage,
the childish singalong Konami,
Síríus Alfa, a metal update of the robotic disco-music of Stereo Rock & Roll,
the elegant rhythmic mutations of Pentatronik, from pow-wow beat to hysterical punk-rock and back,
and especially Polynesía, which sounded like a remix of Gershon Kingsley's Pop Corn (1969) and in fact a medley of instrumental hits from the 1960s.
Evil Madness, a supergroup comprising
BJ Nilsen, Johann Johannsson and Sigtryggur of Stilluppsteypa, debuted with
the neo-disco horror soundtrack of
Demon Jukebox (12tonar, 2006), later replicated on
Super Great Love (Editions Mego, 2011),
Cafe Cicago (Ultra Eczema, 2010)
and Super Great Love (Editions Mego, 2011).
The Miner's Hymns (2011), recorded in a cathedral, sounds more like
an exercise in "rhythm" (in deciding when to play and when to stop playing),
than an exercise in liturgical melody.
He quickly became one of the world's greatest specialists in
And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees (2009),
Free the Mind (2012),
Copenhagen Dreams (2012),
I Am Here (2014),
The Theory of Everything (2014),
End of Summer (2015),
I Am Here (2014) was a collaboration with BJ Nilsen.
End of Summer (Sonic Pieces, 2015) was a collaboration with cellist Hildur Gudnadottir and Lichens.
Orphee (Deutsche Grammophon, 2016) contains 15 instrumental pieces
inspired by the myth of Orpheum.
Johann Johannsson died in 2018.
His first film came out posthumously, Last and First Men (2019).
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