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  • Born

    19 September 1969

  • Born In

    Reykjavík, Höfuðborgarsvæðið, Iceland

  • Died

    9 February 2018 (aged 48)

Jóhann Gunnar Jóhannsson (19 September 1969 – 9 February 2018) was an Icelandic composer and musician who had been releasing solo albums since 2002 as well as composing music for a wide array of media including theatre, dance, TV and films.

Jóhann Jóhannsson was one of the most active participants in the new Icelandic music scene. He was one of the founders of Kitchen Motors, the art organization/think tank/record label which specializes in instigating collaborations, promoting concerts and exhibitions, performances, chamber operas, producing films, books and radio shows based on the ideals of experimentation, collaboration and the search for new art forms. Johann has produced and written music with artists as diverse as Marc Almond ("Stranger Things" album), Barry Adamson and Pan Sonic, Hafler Trio, Magga Stína and many others. He has also written music for the theatre, documentaries and soundtrack music for several feature films.

In 2016 Jóhann 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 as well as 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 recently served as music and sound consultant on Mother!, directed by Darren Aronofsky.

Jóhannsson was born and raised in Reykjavík, where he later went on to study languages and literature at university. He started his musical career as a guitarist playing in indie rock bands. 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, Erik Satie, Purcell and Moondog with the electronic music of labels such as Mille Plateaux and Mego. Andy Beta gave Englabörn a score of 8.9 on Pitchfork 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, he employed 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 is Jóhann's fourth studio album, inspired by his father. Jóhann's father was 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. IBM 1401, A User's Manual was released on October 30, 2006 under 4AD. "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."

Fordlândia, Jóhann's sixth full-length studio album, was released on November 3, 2008 via 4AD and was thematically influenced by the failure of Henry Ford's Brazilian rubber plant Fordlândia.

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. 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 as "A gorgeous brass-based requiem for northeast England's former mining community" by the BBC. Writing in UK Sunday newspaper 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."

Film scores

Year Film Directed by Notes
2012 Mystery Lou Ye Winner – Golden Horse Awards for Best Original Film Score.
Nominated – Asian Film Awards for Best Composer.
2013 Prisoners Denis Villeneuve
2014 The Theory of Everything James Marsh Winner – Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score.
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Original Score.
Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Film Music
Nominated – Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media
2015 Sicario Denis Villeneuve Nominated – Academy Award for Best Original Score.
Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Film Music.
2016 Lovesong So Yong Kim
2016 Arrival Denis Villeneuve Winner – World Soundtrack Awards for Best Film Composer of the Year
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score
Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Film Music.
2017 Mother! Darren Aronofsky As music and sound consultant
2018 Mandy Panos Cosmatos
2018 The Mercy James Marsh
2018 Mary Magdalene Garth Davis Posthumous release

Other awards

Rhode International Film Festival
2008: Varmints (Best Original Score)

Sapporo Short Film International Film Festival
2008: Varmints (Best Original Score)

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. His list of collaborators include Tim Hecker, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Pan Sonic, CAN drummer Jaki Liebezeit, Marc Almond, Barry Adamson, and Stephen O'Malley of Sunn O))). In 1999 Jóhann Jóhannsson founded the Apparat Organ Quartet, which has released two albums since 2002 with live performances in Europe, America and Japan.


Solo albums

Englabörn (2002, Touch)
Virðulegu Forsetar (2004, Touch)
Dís (2004, 12 Tónar, in Iceland; 2005, The Worker's Institute, in the US)
IBM 1401, A User's Manual (2006, 4AD)
Englabörn (re-issue) (2007, 4AD)
Fordlandia (2008, 4AD)
And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees (2009, NTOV)
End of Summer (2015, Sonic Pieces) – in collaboration with Hildur Guðnadóttir & Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe
Orphée (2016, Deutsche Grammophon)

Soundtrack albums

Dís (2004, 12 Tónar, in Iceland; 2005, The Worker's Institute, in the US)
The Miners' Hymns (2011, FatCat)
Free The Mind (2012, NTOV)
Copenhagen Dreams (2012, 12 Tónar)
Prisoners (2013, WaterTower Music)
McCanick by John C. Waller (2014, Milan Records)
I Am Here (with B.J. Nilsen) (2014, Ash International)
The Theory of Everything (2014, Back Lot Music)
Sicario (2015, Varèse Sarabande)
Arrival (2016, Deutsche Grammophon)
The OA (2016, The Rocket Builder (Lo Pan!) 4AD)


"The Sun's Gone Dim and the Sky's Turned Black" (2006, 4AD)

Feature films

Íslenski draumurinn by Robert Ingi Douglas (Iceland, 2000)
Óskabörn þjóðarinnar by Jóhann Sigmarsson (Iceland, 2000)
A Man Like Me by Robert Ingi Douglas (Iceland, 2002)
Dís by Silja Hauksdóttir (Iceland, 2004)
Blóðbönd AKA Thicker than Water by Árni Óli Ásgeirsson (Iceland, 2006)
Personal Effects by David Hollander (US, 2009)
By Day and By Night by Alejandro Molina (MX, 2010)
Dreams in Copenhagen by Max Kestner (DK, 2010)
The Miners’ Hymns by Bill Morrison (UK, 2011)
The Good Life by Eva Mulvad (DK, 2011)
For Ellen by So Yong Kim (US, 2012)
Free The Mind by Phie Ambo (DK, 2012)
White Black Boy by Camilla Magid (DK, 2012)
Mystery by Lou Ye (CN, 2012)
McCanick by John C. Waller (US, 2013)
Prisoners by Denis Villeneuve (US, 2013)
I Am Here (with BJNilsen) by Anders Morgenthaler (DK, 2014)
The Theory of Everything by James Marsh (UK, 2014)
Sicario by Denis Villeneuve (US, 2015)
Nerve by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (US, 2016)
Lovesong by So Yong Kim (US, 2016)
Arrival by Denis Villeneuve (US, 2016)
Mother! by Darren Aronofsky (US, 2017, unused)
Blade Runner 2049 by Denis Villenueve (US, 2017, unused)
Mandy by Panos Cosmatos (US, 2018)
The Mercy by James Marsh (UK, 2018)
Mary Magdalene by Garth Davis (UK-US, 2018)

Short films

Keepsake by Tim Shore (United Kingdom, 2003)
Varmints by Marc Craste (United Kingdom, 2008)
Junk Love by Nikolaj Feifer (DK, 2011)
End of Summer by Jóhann Jóhannsson (2015)
Corpus Camera (Iceland, 1999, Stöð 2)
Leyndardómar Íslenskra Skrímsla (Iceland, 2000, Sjónvarpið)
Erró- Norður, suður, austur, vestur (Iceland, 2000, Stöð 2)
Trapped (Iceland, 2015)


Margrét Mikla by Kristín Ómarsdóttir (1996, Icelandic Take-away Theatre)
Vitleysingarnir by Ólafur Haukur Símonarsson (2000, Hafnarfjördur Theater)
Fireface by Marius Von Mayerberg (2000, RÚV)
Englabörn by Hávar Sigurjónsson (2001, Hafnarfjördur Theater)
Kryddlegin Hjörtu by Laura Esquivel (2002, Borgarleikhús)
Viktoría og Georg by Ólafur Haukur Símonarsson (2002, Icelandic National Theatre)
Pabbastrákur by Hávar Sigurjónsson (2003, Icelandic National Theatre)
Jón Gabríel Borkman by Henrik Ibsen (2004, Icelandic National Theatre)
Dínamít by Birgir Sigurðsson (2005, Icelandic National Theatre)
Døden i Teben by Sophocles/Jon Fosse (2008, Det Norske Teatret)
Ganesh versus the Third Reich by Back to Back Theatre (2011, Back to Back Theatre)

Contemporary dance

IBM 1401, a User's Manual with Erna Ómarsdóttir (2002)
Mysteries of Love with Erna Ómarsdóttir (2005)

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