Jóhann Jóhannsson

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Jóhann Jóhannsson
Johann Johannsson Analog (cropped).jpg
Background information
Birth nameJóhann Gunnar Jóhannsson [1]
Born(1969-09-19)19 September 1969
Reykjavík, Iceland
Died9 February 2018(2018-02-09) (aged 48)
Berlin, Germany
Occupation(s)Composer and producer
InstrumentsPiano, organ, synthesizer
Years active1987–2018
LabelsDeutsche Grammophon, 4AD, Touch, 12 Tónar
Associated actsApparat Organ Quartet, Evil Madness
Website johannjohannsson.com

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. [2]


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 former. 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.

Deutsche Grammophon record label

Deutsche Grammophon (DGG) is a German classical music record label that was the precursor of the corporation PolyGram. Headquartered in Berlin Friedrichshain, it is now part of Universal Music Group (UMG) since its merger with the UMG family of labels in 1999. It is the oldest surviving established record company.

<i>Orphée</i> (album) 2016 studio album by Jóhann Jóhannsson

Orphée is the tenth full-length studio album by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, released under Deutsche Grammophon on September 16, 2016. The music is inspired by Jean Cocteau's film of the same name and by Ovid's interpretation of the Orpheus myth.

Denis Villeneuve Canadian film director and screenwriter

Denis Villeneuve is a French Canadian film director, writer, and producer. He is a four-time recipient of the Canadian Screen Award for Best Direction, for Maelström in 2001, Polytechnique in 2009, Incendies in 2011 and Enemy in 2014. The first three of these films also won the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television Award for Best Motion Picture, while the latter was awarded the prize for best Canadian film of the year by the Toronto Film Critics Association.

Early life and career

Jóhann was born on 19 September 1969 in Reykjavík, Iceland to Jóhann Gunnarsson and Edda Thorkelsdóttir. [1] 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. [3] He went on to work as a guitarist and producer playing in Icelandic indie rock bands, like Olympia, Unun and Ham. [4] In 1999, Jóhann co-founded Kitchen Motors; [4] 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. [3]

Reykjavík Capital and largest city in Iceland

Reykjavík is the capital and largest city of Iceland. It is located in southwestern Iceland, on the southern shore of Faxaflói bay. Its latitude is 64°08' N, making it the world's northernmost capital of a sovereign state. With a population of around 128,793, it is the center of Iceland's cultural, economic and governmental activity, and is a popular tourist destination.

John Peel English disc jockey, radio presenter, record producer and journalist

John Robert Parker Ravenscroft,, known professionally as John Peel, was an English disc jockey, radio presenter, record producer and journalist. He was the longest serving of the original BBC Radio 1 DJs, broadcasting regularly from 1967 until his death in 2004.

Steve Albini American record engineer and rock musician

Steven Albini is an American musician, record producer, audio engineer and music journalist. He was a member of Big Black, Rapeman and Flour, and is a member of Shellac. He is the founder, owner and principal engineer of Electrical Audio, a recording studio complex in Chicago. In 2018, Albini estimated that he had worked on several thousand albums during his career.

Solo works

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." [5]

Digital filter Hendrigsv

In signal processing, a digital filter is a system that performs mathematical operations on a sampled, discrete-time signal to reduce or enhance certain aspects of that signal. This is in contrast to the other major type of electronic filter, the analog filter, which is an electronic circuit operating on continuous-time analog signals.

Sound recording and reproduction recording of sound and playing it back

Sound recording and reproduction is an electrical, mechanical, electronic, or digital inscription and re-creation of sound waves, such as spoken voice, singing, instrumental music, or sound effects. The two main classes of sound recording technology are analog recording and digital recording.

Holy minimalism, mystic minimalism, spiritual minimalism, or sacred minimalism are terms, sometimes pejorative, used to describe the musical works of a number of late-twentieth-century composers of Western classical music. The compositions are distinguished by a minimalist compositional aesthetic and a distinctly religious or mystical subject focus.

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. [6]

Glockenspiel percussion instrument composed of a set of tuned keys arranged in the fashion of the keyboard of a piano

A glockenspiel is a percussion instrument composed of a set of tuned keys arranged in the fashion of the keyboard of a piano. In this way, it is similar to the xylophone; however, the xylophone's bars are made of wood, while the glockenspiel's are metal plates or tubes, thus making it a metallophone. The glockenspiel, moreover, is usually smaller and higher in pitch.

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. [7]

<i>IBM 1401, A Users Manual</i> 2006 studio album by Jóhann Jóhannsson

IBM 1401, A User's Manual is the fourth full length studio album by Icelandic musician Jóhann Jóhannsson, released by 4AD on October 30, 2006.

4AD record label

4AD is a British independent record label, founded by Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent in 1980. It was originally funded by, and an imprint of, Beggars Banquet.

Fordlandia , Jóhann's sixth full-length studio album, was released in November 2008 via 4AD, and was thematically influenced by the failure of Henry Ford's Brazilian rubber plant Fordlândia. [8]

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". [9] 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". [10] 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." [11]

Film work

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 is his work with Denis Villeneuve for which he is best known. [12] His first collaboration with Villeneuve was Prisoners in 2013. [12] He subsequently worked on Villeneuve's films Sicario (2015) which was nominated for Academy Award for Best Original Score and Arrival in 2016. [12] 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. [13] 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. [12] 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. [12] His final works were for the films Mandy , The Mercy , and Mary Magdalene . [12] 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."

Collaborations and other projects

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. [14] 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. [15]


Jóhann died in Berlin on 9 February 2018, at the age of 48. The cause of death was an accidental overdose of cocaine combined with medication. [16] [17]


Solo albums

Film score albums


Feature films

Short films




Contemporary dance


Academy Awards 2014 The Theory of Everything Nominated
2015 Sicario Nominated
Golden Globe Awards 2014The Theory of EverythingWon
2016 Arrival Nominated
BAFTA Awards 2014The Theory of EverythingNominated
Grammy Awards 2014The Theory of EverythingNominated
Saturn Awards 2015SicarioNominated

See also

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