Jóhann Jóhannsson (alumni)
Born in 1969, Jóhann began studying piano and trombone at the age of eleven in his native Reykjavik. He abandoned formal musical training while in high school and, after studying literature and languages at university, spent ten years writing music for and playing in indie rock bands in Iceland's flourishing music scene, using guitars to compose feedback-drenched pieces and sculpt complex multi-layered soundscapes. Creating music that integrated acoustic and electronic sounds into something strikingly individual and new, Jóhann began writing music for the theatre in the 1990s and in this medium developed the style he was most known for. He wrote music for several productions with the respected company Hafnafjardarleikhusid, including the play 'Englabörn’.
The score for that play - which combined the influence of Baroque music, Erik Satie, Bernard Herrmann, Moondog and the electronic music of labels like Mille Plateaux and Mego - was released in 2002 on the respected British label Touch. Written for string quartet, percussion and electronics, 'Englabörn' was re-released in 2007 by 4AD, by which time its combination of classical instrumentation and subtle electronics had proven influential. Jóhann's second album, 'Virthulegu Forsetar' (Touch 2004) featured a brass ensemble, pipe organ, electronic drones and percussion. Both releases met substantial critical acclaim, whilst his third album, 'IBM 1401 - A User's Manual' (2006), was his most ambitiously orchestrated composition to date involving a 60-piece string orchestra. 'Fordlandia', was released in November 2008 also on 4AD, and was voted best classical album of 2008 at the Icelandic Music Awards. In April 2010 the Type label released 'And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees', an album of Jóhann's award-winning music for Marc Craste's animated film 'Varmints'.
Although mostly instrumental, Jóhann's work often involved complex narratives, which deal with our relationship with the world of machines and decaying and obsolete technology. His music often incorporates found recordings, such as his use of reel-to-reel recordings of a decommissioned 1960's IBM mainframe in the piece 'IBM 1401 - a User's Manual'. 'Fordlandia' was another orchestral album combining complex narrative themes with a sound that expands upon his earlier work while also exploring new ground. It combines romantic minimalist string writing influenced by Grecki and Arvo Pärt and baroque-influenced counterpoint with elements derived from Krautrock, post-rock, glitch electronics and Icelandic folk music. Jóhann signed to FatCat's post-classical imprint 130701 in 2010 and his debut for the label - the beautiful, brass and church organ soundtrack to acclaimed US director Bill Morrison's found-footage silent documentary 'The Miners' Hymns' - was released in May 2011. Intended to be the first of three albums for us, it ended up being the only album on the imprint, although he also contributed two tracks to the 'Transcendentalists' EP. In 2015, Jóhann signed to Deutsche Gramophon and the following year released his final solo album, 'Orphe'.
Jóhann was the founding member of Kitchen Motors - an art organisation that curated events, commissioned works and released records and was been an influential part of the art and music scenes in Iceland during the early '00s. Members of Múm, Sigur Rós, Aniima and many others were all affiliated with Kitchen Motors and participated in their projects. Jóhann's many side projects include the all-analogue Apparat Organ Quartet and the electronic "supergroup" Evil Madness.
Jóhann was also an award-winning film composer with many international feature film credits to his name, including 'The Good Life' (Eva Mulvad, DK 2010), 'Dreams in Copenhagen' (Max Kestner, DK 2009), 'Varmints' (Marc Craste UK 2008) and 'By Day and By Night' (MX 2009). In 2015, his score to James Marsh's 'The Theory of Everything' saw the composer win a Golden Globe award and be nominated for an Oscar the following year, Jóhann received another Oscar nomination plus a BAFTA nomination for his score to Denis Villeneuve's 'Sicario'. In 2017 he was once again nominated for both BAFTA, Grammy and Golden Globes for his soundtrack to Denis Villeneuve's 'Arrival'.
He won Composer of the Year for his work on the films 'Mandy', 'Mary Magdalene' and 'The Mercy' at the World Soundtrack Awards in 2017 and again, posthumously, in 2018. Having tragically passed away at his home in Berlin on 9th February 2018, at the age of just 48, the award was accepted on Jóhann's behalf by his great friend Hildur Guðnadóttir, who gave a beautiful acceptance speech, saying "Jóhann lived and breathed for his music. It was his everything. Painful as it is for us who were closest to him not to have him around in his physical form any more, it's really comforting to know that his music lives on and he continues to breathe through sound, as he actually did when he was alive."