Jazz à l’année

Jóhann Jóhannsson

featuring American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME)

This fascinating Icelandic composer has a limitless imagination that transcends minimalism, neoclassicism, electroacoustic, baroque, post-rock and contemporary classical music. Whether it’s in dance, theatre or film, his gorgeous music creates a world of intensity… He created the relentless, captivating film score for director Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, which earned him an Oscar nomination. Coming to Montreal to present pieces from a new album due on Deutsche Grammophon, he welcomes the audience to revel in a monumental musical language that expresses and conjures every emotion.

Jóhann Jóhannsson
“People seem to need labels, but they can be needlessly reductive.” These are words that Icelandic composer, musician and producer Jóhann Jóhannsson lives by. His music is a unique blend of electronics and classical orchestration, drawing on minimalism and drone music, as well as electronic and classical forms, but never settling into any pre-­defined genre.

“I’m obsessed with the texture of sound,” he says, “and interested in minimal forms, with how to say things as simply as possible, how to distill things into their primal form.” It’s an approach that’s served him well, whether in his own solo work or in collaborative projects across media as diverse as theater, dance, and cinema.

Today, it’s the latter for which Jóhannsson is best known, and in the past couple of years, his status as a master of the film score has been put beyond all doubt. His 2014 soundtrack for James Marsh’s Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything rightly won a Golden Globe, while his supremely brooding score for Denis Villeneuve’s FBI thriller Sicario picked up Oscar, BAFTA, and Critics’ Choice nominations.

But to understand how Jóhannsson became the musician he is today, you need to look back to his past. After studying languages and literature at university, he began playing in indie rock bands, using feedback-­drenched guitar figures to create multi-layered soundscapes. From there, his palette expanded.

“When I discovered the albums on Eno’s Obscure Records label from the 70s, my interest moved into creating minimal, ambient structures with classical instruments,” he recalls. “I set the guitar aside and started writing music for strings, woodwinds and chamber ensembles, combining acoustic and electronic sounds.” By manipulating the resonances of acoustic instruments with digital processing, Jóhannsson created something unique and new. “ My ideal is music where the electronic and the acoustic sounds blend seamlessly.”

Now based in Berlin, Jóhannsson was born and raised in Reykjavik, where the fertile creative community was small and collaborations between musicians, artists, actors and dancers were common. In 1999, he was a founding member of Kitchen Motors, an art organization, think tank and record label that encouraged interdisciplinary collaborations. “We tried to amplify the opportunities that already existed, pulling together people from the worlds of jazz, classical, electronic music, punk and metal to encourage new hybrids. My own music grew out of those experiments.”

It’s a sensibility that’s stayed with him ever since. In March 2015, for instance, he 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. Indeed his list of collaborators is extensive.

Jóhannsson’s first solo album, Englabörn (Touch, 2002), was a suite based on the music written for the theater piece of the same name, a meeting of classical strings and electronics. “I recorded the strings, then processed them through digital filters to take apart the sounds and reassemble them. I like going to the microscopic core of the music to extract the essence, then use that to build up layers of sound.”

For more information and tickets: www.placedesarts.com   514-842-2112 or 1-866-842-2112

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