Jóhann Jóhannsson is an Icelandic composer. His stately, slow-building and hauntingly melodic music has been quietly bewitching listeners for the last few years - and Fordlândia, his most complete and beautiful piece of music to date (released November 2008), is sure to win him a legion of new fans .
Jóhann Jóhannsson's first two solo records - Englabörn (2002) and Virthulegu Forsetar (2004) – were released by the singular British independent Touch label. Despite limited promotional resources, both found plenty of receptive ears, receiving glowing reviews in music media around the world. Indeed, Virthulegu Forsetar found its way onto many critics' end-of-year lists.
The Englabörn album was derived from music that Jóhann wrote for an Icelandic play of the same name, written for string quartet, piano, organ, glockenspiel and percussion. These elements were processed and manipulated, adding delicate electronic accents to the otherwise entirely acoustic recordings. One song, 'Odi et Amo', is a setting of the famous poem by Catullus.
Virthulegu Forsetar was one hour-long piece for eleven brass players, percussion, electronics, organs and piano. The piece had its live debut in Hallgrimskirkja, a large church in Reykjavik which is also the tallest building in Iceland the performance was named "the most memorable musical event of 2003" in Iceland's leading newspaper.
Virthulegu Forsetar shares Englabörn's quiet, elegiac beauty, but replaces the brevity of the first album's exquisite miniatures with a extended sweep of sound that reveals a long, slow process of evolution.
Jóhann has been collaborating with the dancer and choreographer Erna Omarsdottir for several years together they have performed a dance piece called IBM 1401, A User's Manual in more than forty cities around Europe. When Jóhann signed to 4AD in 2005, he immediately set about reworking this music originally written for string quartet, organ and electronics, IBM 1401, A User's Manual (2006) was far more expansive in its recorded incarnation. A sixty piece string orchestra was recorded at Prague's legendary Barrandov sound stage, and the four original movements were joined by a completely new finale. The final mix, which incorporates electronics and vintage reel-to-reel recordings of an IBM 1401 mainframe computer and its accompanying instruction manual, took place in Reykjavik at the beginning of 2006.
Following IBM 1401, A User's Manual, Fordlândia is the second in a proposed trilogy based on technology and iconic American brand names. Whereas IBM 1401, A User's Manual was a personal response to technology and its inevitable obsolescence inspired by his father's work with mainframe computers in Iceland, Fordlândia springs out of a far more diffuse set of influences. It brings together the soaring grandeur of its predecessor – some sections were recorded with the same orchestra in Prague – and the plangent intimacy of Englabörn, moving between heady, melting cadences and crystalline motifs with gorgeous, dreamlike logic.
Due for release in November 2008, Fordlândia is a fascinating, immersive and deeply rewarding web of ideas and melodies, weaving a musical tapestry of hypnotic richness and surprising emotional depth.
Jóhann Jóhannsson's many other projects include membership of the group Apparat Organ Quartet - hailed by Neil Strauss in the New York Times as being "as innovative and meticulous as Sigur Ros, but who sound nothing like it". Although Apparat Organ Quartet formed as far back as 1999, they only released their debut album internationally in 2006. The band has played extensively in the last couple of years, including appearances at the Roskilde festival, London's ICA, the Holland festival, New York's Central Park Summerstage and Pompidou Center in Paris. The band was featured in a segment of PBS's Frontline show in 2003.
Jóhann has also produced and written music with other artists he's worked with Marc Almond (on the Stranger Things album), Barry Adamson, Pan Sonic, The Hafler Trio, Jaki Liebezeit, Laetitia Sadier and many others.
After the success of IBM 1401, A User's Manual, Jóhann's collaboration with the internationally renowned choreographer and dancer Erna Omarsdottir continued in 2005 with a new piece entitled Mysteries Of Love.
Jóhann's music was been featured in several films including Wicker Park (Paul McGuigan, 2004), Opium, Diary of a Madwoman (Janos Szazs, 2007), Voleur de Cheveaux (Micha Wald, 2007), as well as forming an integral part of several art projects such as Lev Manovich's Mission To Earth (MIT Press 2005) and Gregory Colbert's acclaimed film haikus Ashes And Snow (2006).
Music for films and theatre figure prominently in Jóhann's work. Jóhann has composed music for no fewer than six feature films in his native Iceland. He has recently composed scores for the award-winning animator Marc Craste (Varmints, 2008) and the American independent film Personal Effects (David Hollander, 2008). Jóhann's soundtrack album for the film Dis was released in 2005 in the US and in 2006 in Japan.
In addition to the feature films, Jóhann has written music for numerous documentaries, theatre productions and several contemporary dance works.
Jóhann Jóhannsson also performes his solo music with his ensemble - which includes a string quartet and a percussionist - visiting venues such as the Pompidou Center in Paris, Union Chapel in London and the Vooruit in Belgium, and appearing at music venues and festivals all over Europe as well as China and Japan.
Jóhann is also a founder member of the Icelandic label / think tank / art collective Kitchen Motors which specialises in instigating collaborations and art projects across diverse artforms.