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We Got Jóhann Jóhannsson to Conjure Up a Mythical and Futuristic Playlist

Everyone's favourite Icelandic composer runs us through ten strange, cerebral selections.
October 18, 2016, 10:41am
Pressefoto. Dieser Artikel ist zuerst bei THUMP UK erschienen.

It seems like we've got a bit of a thing for myths this week here at THUMP UK. Maybe autumn's encroaching chill's got us tapping into the past, each freezing cold walk home bringing us closer and closer to sacking reality off and becoming an ancient Norse blacksmith instead. We've looked at how Kenny Dixon Jr's turned himself into one of the most intriguing selectors on the planet via bucket hats and hair braiding, and we've also investigated the strange career of Eurodance don DJ Sammy, another man-turned-myth. So why stop there!


Today, it's the turn of everyone's favourite Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who has decided to run us through ten of his favourite pieces of music that are both—in his head at last—mythical and futuristic. Which is a combination up there with "chips and curry sauce" and "Ant and Dec" in our list of all time favourite combos.

Jóhannsson's been releasing mythically-influenced work which skirts between drone, minimalism, and twinkling electronica with aplomb, for years now, and records like IBM 1401, A User's Manual have a special place in the hearts of those of us who like our music spooky and spectral. His latest album, Orphée, is about the old Greek dude who managed to charm the pants off everyone through music. Now that's what we call commitment to mythology.

Alongside his traditional studio work, Jóhannsson's cultivated a secondary career in film soundtracking, which has led to him picking up an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe victory for his work on 2014's The Theory of Everything. One of his most fruitful working relationships is with Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, with pair having already worked on a trio of films—Prisoners, Sicario, and the soon-to-be-released sci-fi flick Arrival. They've got another collaboration in the works too, and that's the SEQUEL TO BLADE RUNNER. Which is exciting isn't it?

While you wait for the arrival of Arrival, sit back and let Jóhannsson guide you through some of the strangest music you'll ever hear on THUMP. Check out his selections below.

1. Current 93 - Black Ships Ate the Sky

One of the England's great living poets playing with some amazing musicians. His work, always somewhere between the metaphysical and the ineffable, has always fascinated me.

2. David Lang with Theatre of Voices - We Sit and Cry

Mixing text by H.C. Andersen with passages from the Passion, this is an absolute masterpiece. I listen to this piece at least once a week.

3. Meredith Monk - Vessel Suite

A unique talent, Monk's approach to vocal writing was an influence on the Arrival score.

4. Cocteau Twins - Persephone

I love Treasure, it's one of my favourite albums. All the titles are names of women (except Ivo) and I've no idea if Elizabeth is singing about the mythical Persephone or a friend of that name from down the pub, but the song is a beauty nonetheless. In Greek mythology Persephone was the queen of the Underworld, a goddess of death.

5. Olivier Messiaen - Lounge a l'eternity de Jesus (from Quartet for the End of Time)

Messiaen took inspiration from nature and from Christianity, but I always feel that his pagan, natural side was stronger.

6. This Video of Mike Patton Playing the Intonarumori

The Italian Futurist Luigi Russsolo was a proponent of Futurism in music, which he wrote about in his manifesto The Art of Noises. He invented new instruments to play this music. Here´s a snippet of Mike Patton giving one of them a spin.

7. Geinoh Yamashirogumi - Falling As Flowers Do - Dying A Glorious Death

A remarkable Japanese ensemble, best known for writing the score to the classic sci-fi anime Akira. I liked their Akira score, but I had never listened to their other music. When my friend pointed out he heard some echoes of it in my score for Arrival, I listened to their entire back catalogue and discovered some amazing and unique music. For the record, I had not listened to Akira for about 15 years, when I started writing Arrival, but in some ways I can see he has a point.

8. Alvin Lucier - Music on a Long Thin Wire 1

A description from the composer himself: "I first got the idea for "Music on a Long Thin Wire" in 1977. Physicist John Trefny and I were teaching a course on musical acoustics at Wesleyan and had set up a modern version of the Pythagorean monochord. We extended a short metal wire across a laboratory table and placed an electromagnet over one end of it. An audio oscillator drove the wire. The interaction between the flux field of the magnet and the frequency and loudness of the oscillator caused the wire to vibrate in ways observable to the naked eye.

I was fascinated by this demonstration and started imagining what a very long monochord-one which could be installed on a concert stage or occupy a gallery space-would sound like. I knew it would sound amazing. I decided to build one. I bought some metal piano wire and sent away to the Edmund Scientific Company for a set of clamps and a horseshoe magnet. After a few weeks of experimentation, I designed a portable instrument whose length could be varied to fit different size spaces."


This is music as pure physics, can't get any more futuristic than that! The multilayered attack-less piano drones I created on a 16-track tape machine for Arrival were partly inspired by this piece, although they are very different in execution and mine nowhere near as profound as Lucier's.

9. Pan Sonic - Johdin

Pan Sonic sound like they are playing music of the future made with the electric instruments of yesterday. This track from their Aaltopiiri LP is more than 15 years old but still sounds futuristic thanks to their minimalistic approach where the simplest solutions usually result in the most effective outcome.

10. Joan La Barbara

Joan is one of the world's most original avant grade vocalist - arguably someone who has extended the musical possibilities of the voice more than anyone else. One can even hear foreshadowings of Black Metal vocal styles in some of her early recordings. John Cage, Morton Feldman, Robert Ashley and Philip Glass all wrote works for her. She was kind enough to allow me to use a snipper of her composition "Erin" in the Arrival score. I put it into a completely new context, but her approach to vocals was definitely another big influence on the Arrival score.

Orphée _is out now, and _the_ Arrival OST hits stores on the 11th of November. Both records are on Deutsche Grammophon._