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|Birth name||Jóhann Gunnar Jóhannsson|
19 September 1969|
9 February 2018 (aged 48)|
|Occupation(s)||Composer and producer|
|Instruments||Piano, organ, synthesizer|
|Labels||Deutsche Grammophon, 4AD, Touch, 12 Tónar|
|Associated acts||Apparat Organ Quartet, Evil Madness|
Jóhann Gunnar Jóhannsson (Icelandic pronunciation: [ˈjouːhan ˈjouːhansɔn]; 19 September 1969 – 9 February 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 19 September 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.
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 piece premiered live in Durham Cathedral in July 2010 and was released on CD and DVD in May 2011. The album was described by the BBC as "a gorgeous brass-based requiem for northeast England's former mining community". Writing in The Observer, Fiona Maddocks gave the London debut performance of the score at the Barbican five stars, writing, "The strange counterpoint between an Icelandic minimalist, an American filmmaker and a bitter episode in recent British history has resulted in a work as unclassifiable as it is unforgettable."
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. In describing the artistic process for Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve stated that "the movie needed something different, and I needed to go back to something closer to Vangelis. Jóhann and I decided that I will need to go in another direction." Villeneuve brought in Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch to complete the project. 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. In an interview following the release of Arrival, Jóhann commented on his process stating that "it's about putting yourself in a receptive state of mind where you react to inputs, and it can be from anywhere. It doesn't really matter if you're writing for film or if you're doing your own piece; you always have to put yourself into that space. He furthers: "There are practical parameters, of course, involved in writing film music rather than doing your own album, but I view them very much as the same body of work. And, for me, there are very clear lines for me between Englabörn to Arrival."
In March 2015, Jóhann teamed up with ACME (American Contemporary Music Ensemble) and the Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth to perform Drone Mass at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. His list of collaborators included Tim Hecker, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Pan Sonic, CAN drummer Jaki Liebezeit, Marc Almond, Barry Adamson, and Stephen O'Malley of Sunn O))). In 1999, Jóhann founded the Apparat Organ Quartet, which has released two albums since 2002 with live performances in Europe, America and Japan.
|Academy Awards||2014||The Theory of Everything||Nominated|
|Golden Globe Awards||2014||The Theory of Everything||Won|
|BAFTA Awards||2014||The Theory of Everything||Nominated|
|Grammy Awards||2014||The Theory of Everything||Nominated|
Inspired by a recording of an IBM mainframe computer which Jóhann's father, Jóhann Gunnarsson, made on a reel-to-reel tape machine more than 30 years ago, the piece was originally written to be performed by a string quartet as the accompaniment to a dance piece by the choreographer Erna Ómarsdóttir. For the album version, Jóhann rewrote the entire score, and it was recorded by a sixty-piece string orchestra. He also added a new final section and incorporated electronics alongside those original tape recordings of the singing computer.