On the 9th of February 2018, film composer, Johann Johannsson, passed away. This has come as a complete shock as he was only 48 years old and in the peak of his career. He has become one of my favourite film composers in the modern era of cinema. This article will reflect on some of the most amazing pieces of music I have come across personally from the great Johann Johannsson.
The Sun Gone Dim and The Sky’s Gone Black
One of Johann Johannsson’s singles that wasn’t film related but I had come across in the medium of film. This was used for the trailer music of 2011 Alien Invasion film, Battle: Los Angeles. This film was somewhat forgettable but the music in the trailer got me interested in this film so much that what resulted was a disappointed film experience because it did not match the hauntingly beautiful track, The Sun’s Gone Dim and The Sky’s Turned Black. This song is a perfect encapsulation of Johannsson’s style. A minimalist style mixed with brooding and powerful electronica. This is the track that introduced me to the wonderful intricacies of Johann Johannsson. It didn’t just get me into the man himself but the whole genre and to this day my spotify and Ipod (Yes I still use them) is full of ambient electronica.
The track is simple, an electronic voice controls the whole piece with a slow, building orchestra that builds and builds into a climatic finale. The words hauntingly beautiful will be thrown around all over this article but it is the perfect collection of words to describe the works of Johannsson. The moment when the operatic women bellows out a harmonious, choral note, along with the increasing noise of the electronic voice and growing orchestra, the finale of the song tugged at the heart strings and leads to a fitting finale or what is a truly wondrous song that could turn any scene into a tense, emotional viewing experience.
The Theory of Everything Score
The Theory of Everything was one of my favourite films released in 2015. The biopic of Stephen Hawking’s was hugely emotional and joyous to watch. This was aided by Eddie Redmanye and Felicity Jones but a lot of the credit could be given to the award winning score by Johannsson. The score is so gentle and subtle but it controls the film and sets the tone throughout. The scene where he struggles up the stairs was one of those moments where I was blinded by my tears. The scene actually hurts to watch and this was aided by the accompaniment of Johannsson’s score.
Another one of the scene’s that will stay with me is when Professor Hawking is at a conference and he imagines to pick up someone’s pencil while he sits their in the chair. As he raises up from his chair, Johannsson’s score control and manipulate the viewers emotion, leaving a bare, raw reaction. The Theory of Everything was such a caratic experience. I cried more at this film and smiled at this film then any other. The performances were great but I cannot imagine the intense polarisation of emotions without Johannson’s magnum opus.
This is so different to his previous work in scale but still has that underlying hauntingly beautiful tone. I have not watch this film since watching it in the cinema because of how much of an emotional wreck this film made me become. Any composer that can play with the audience’s emotion like that is the ultimate goal for the composer. A fantastic soundtrack that will live on as one of the greatest to ever be put to film.
They Being Dead They Speaketh
I have talked about the first track that got me into Johann Johannsson, then his magnum opus, now here is a track that I have come across while searching through his discography after hearing of his death. The title may be apt for the article and the timing may of helped with me liking this track. However, this 10 minute behemoth is the perfect example of what the Johannsson style was. There is nothing flashy or out there. I’ll say it again it is hauntingly beautiful. This is slow and creepingly builds to a bold finale. It just keeps building and building to a loud organ, funeral-esque climax. It has shadowy majesticity to it. Truly beautiful.
Even though Johannsson has passed away way too soon, he has created music that will last for eternity. His work will played long after I am gone. Electronic Ambience is a genre I adore and Johannsson was a big part to play. His film scores and his solo work remain as an aural reminder of the gentle beauty that he gave this world. He can now rest in peace.