Searchlight: Jóhann Jóhannsson

Jóhann JóhannssonThough not known as a composer for horror films, the work of Jóhann Jóhannsson is well known to those who enjoy compelling dramas as well as instrumental music. From his first solo album Englabörn (2002) to the just released score for the British film The Mercy, Jóhannsson’s distinctive minimalistic style is well-suited for darker character studies as well as films that fall within the suspense and speculative arena. Perhaps best known for the score for Arrival (2016), fans enjoyed his solo work as much as his film scores, with albums such as IBM 1401, A User’s Manual (2006), Fordlandia (2008), End of Summer (2015), and Orphée (2016).

Getting his start jamming on guitar with indie bands, Jóhannsson released his first album when he was 18 years old. Once he began composing and recording his own solo albums, directors started commissioning individual pieces for film scores, so much so they eventually contacted him to record entire soundtracks. Combining traditional instrumentation with electronics, Jóhannsson created unique sounds that formed the basis of his work. For Englabörn, he recorded all of the stringed instruments, then rerecorded the sound once processed through digital sound filters, allowing him to manipulate each instrument to suit his purposes to record the final tracks. For IBM 1401, A User’s Manual, Jóhannsson combined an orchestral score with the sounds of a computer mainframe, creating a hauntingly beautiful sound that should be heard for full appreciation.


He tended to write each film score differently, depending on when he came to the film’s production. Jóhannsson worked the most with director Denis Villeneuve, scoring Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival. Villeneuve worked with him on Bladerunner 2049 before deciding to go in a different direction musically. Jóhannsson also worked with Darren Aronofsky for his film Mother! (2017), though they ultimately decided the film worked better using music at certain intervals instead of constantly running through the entire film.

Arrival (2016)

Sadly, Jóhann Jóhannsson passed away 9 February 2018. He leaves behind a huge discography including nine solo albums and over twenty film scores, including the upcoming Garth Davis film Mary Magdalene. Serene, intense, brooding, and haunting, Jóhannsson’s music is simple yet beautiful, and extremely inspiring. There something for everyone, from the modern Arrival score to the more conventional The Theory of Everything, which magically captures his minimalistic spirit while still hitting the emotional highs. Jóhannsson comes highly recommended for all the music lovers.


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