About a week ago, news reports came out stating that Jóhann Jóhannsson, a man who has changed my life and inspired me more than I care to admit, had passed away in his apartment in Berlin. It might be a little early to talk about the subject, but Jóhannsson has been a big part of my life since I discovered his work and I feel I owe him, at the very least, my thank as well as my admiration.
I first discovered Jóhannsson’s work when I watched Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners (2013) and I immediately fell in love with his minimalistic approach to musical composition (especially for a movie soundtrack). I remember several things about the night I watched that movie for the first time: I remember being baffled by the movie itself but I specifically remember the incomparable musical connection I had with this man whilst I was walking back home humming his main theme for the movie just because it made me feel good. Thus began my musical discovery of Jóhannsson’s work.
“I’m obsessed with the texture of sound, and interested in minimal forms, with how to say things as simply as possible, how to distil things into their primal form.”
I started by listening to his early work and slowly started to understand his approach to music. Everybody has musical preferences, but it is a rare thing to find and discover an artist that is able to pick specific emotional cords that are buried deep inside of you. Jóhannsson’s minimalistic approach to music fascinated and still fascinates me to this day. His melodies are simple, anybody could play them… but to play and to feel is entirely different. There’s a reason why music hits us the way it does, and that is because it is incredibly personal. Just like any other art form, music can transport us to places we couldn’t even imagine if we actually tried. I believe, and hope, everybody can find an “artistic muse” if we can name it that way, and I think Jóhannsson was mine. Don’t get me wrong, I love all kinds of musicians and composers, but Jóhannsson’s work is something that hits and surprises me every time I hear it.
Let me be clear, I didn’t personally know the man, but I had the amazing chance of meeting him at a conference he gave in Montreal about two years ago. I didn’t know him as a day-to-day friend, but I felt like I knew him in some other way when I shook his hand after the conference. I might seem like a lunatic or some kind of hippie loving guy right now, but I felt like this man was my friend. I felt we shared our lives through his music. I know, pan the camera towards my face and start playing the violins because I’m insanely cheesy right now but I’m very serious when I say that this man has helped me go through a lot of though moments in recent years.
“People seem to need labels, but they can be needlessly reductive.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Jóhannsson’s work (and more particularly, his work in cinema), is very important and impressive. He was one of the very few composers to push the boundaries of minimalistic scores and was constantly trying to fade the line between music and sound design. What amazes me the most about this man – and his cinematic work – is that, of all the composers I know, he was the only one able to fool us into not knowing whenever the music started and the sound design stopped. He kept going further and further into his work and composed some of the best soundtracks ever made. However, if you want to experience and feel Jóhannsson’s music, it is imperative you listen to his personal work.
Mister Jóhannsson, I’ll write this last paragraph as if you were in front of me. Thank you. Thank you for you music, thank you for your vision, thank you for you boldness, thank you for innovating, thank you for staying true to yourself, thank you for helping me tap into my creativity, and (once again) thank you for your music. Rest in peace sir, I hope they have nice music wherever you are because we’ll always have yours wherever we are…
I’d like to leave you with one of Jóhannsson’s recent pieces he composed for his short film called End of Summer. It has stuck with me through thick and thin, and has yet to dishearten me whenever I listen to it, I hope you enjoy…
End of Summer, Pt. 1: