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Johann Johannsson Q&A with Film Music Magazine

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Maybe it's something in the water in Iceland that's produced an invasion of mournfully beautiful and stylistically innovative musicians, each setting out to revolutionize the word with a tonal language of ear-opening, futuristic art. In much the same way that Bjork has caught the world's attention with her mind blowing take on pop, Johann Johannson has been terraforming a sometimes typical landscape of film scoring into a thing of haunting beauty. Listening to such works as "Prisoners," "McCanick," "Free the Mind" and his Oscar-nominated "The Theory of Everything" and "Sicario" are haunting journeys into humanity at its worst, and best. Low, nearly sub-sonic tones dance with subtle, yet memorable themes, his melodies journeying into the depths of hell or the highest reaches of scientific and spiritual heaven with striking originality. In that way, Johannson hasn't diluted his indie street cred honed on any number of strange art music albums, operas and exhibition pieces. He's made that rare segue from high-minded music to the more plebian demands of the big screen, spearheading a music revolution shared by such high art composers as Max Richter ("The Congress"), Jay Wadley ("Indignation") and Mica Levi ("Under the Skin").

Levi created a brilliantly confrontational "Skin" score that was as extra-terrestrial as film music could get with the buzzing tonalities of its black oil seductress, Now Johannson has initiated a scoring close encounter that's just about as strangely memorable with "Arrival" – his latest tour into the extremes of human endurance with Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve. On the pitch black surface of its alien orbs, this tale of linguist trying to find common, grammatical ground for the sake of the planet's survival might not seem to be made of the same unholy moral quagmire stuff of "Prisoner's" psycho child-napper or "Sicario's" ruthless drug war assassin. But those expecting ultimately happy Spielbergian wonder don't know Villeneueve very well, as the translator finds herself moving through time and ponders visions of motherhood, all the while desperately trying to bridge the communication gap with creatures that would give Cthulu pause.

It's a sense of dread, and wonder that Johannson conveys with icy, ominous strings, unearthly brass, tribal percussion, emotionally resonant melody and a dialogue between chirping women, moaning males and the approximation of alien whale cries Much in the same way we might not makes sense of the visitors' Rorschach Test language, Johannsson's score is its own wonderfully trippy and beautiful language that doesn't spell itself out, yet remains thematically hypnotic throughout. Like this striking, challenging film, Johannsson's "Arrival" evolves a musical conversation where Johannsson again proves himself as a composer driven to push the outer limits of the art form – yet in a way that multiplex movie audiences will want to understand, and hear more of.   READ THE Q&A with Film Music Magazine