Johann Johannsson is an Icelandic composer. His stately, slow-building and hauntingly melodic music has been quietly bewitching listeners for the last few years - and IBM 1401, a User´s Manual, his most ambitiously-orchestrated and appealing composition to date, is sure to expand his audience still further. The record is his first for the label 4AD
Johann Johannssons first two solo records - Englabörn (2002) and Virthulegu Forsetar (2004) were released by the singular British independent Touch label. Despite limited promotional resources, both found plenty of fans, receiving glowing reviews in music media around the world; Virthulegu Forsetar found its way onto many critics end-of-year lists.
The Englabörn album was derived from music that Johann wrote for an Icelandic play of the same name, written for string quartet, piano, organ, glockenspiel and percussion. These elements were processed and manipulated, adding delicate electronic accents to the otherwise entirely acoustic recordings. One song, "Odi et Amo", is a setting of the famous poem by Catullus.
"This first solo album from Johann Johannsson is absolutely beautiful, and it has only become more so over the past few months, sustaining me for long periods of time when other music just wouldn't do the trick." [Pitchfork Media Andy Beta].
Johanns second album for Touch, Virthulegu Forsetar was one hour-long piece for 11 brass players, percussion, electronics, organs and piano. The piece had its live debut in Hallgrimskirkja, a large church in Reykjavik which is also the tallest building in Iceland; the performance was named "the most memorable musical event of 2003" in Iceland's leading newspaper. Virthulegu Forsetar shares Englaborn's quiet, elegiac beauty, but replaces the brevity of the first album's exquisite miniatures with a extended sweep of sound that reveals a long, slow process of evolution.
"It´s hard to classify this beautiful album by Icelandic composer Johannsson. On this, his second album, he employs an orchestra of 11 brass players, glockenspiel, piano and organ, with added bells and electronics; so it lies somewhere between classical, ambient music and experimental soundtrack." (The Observer [Kitty Empire])
"Virthulegu Forsetar's reflexive musical and temporal entropy, both a degenerative and regenerative impulse, achieves an astonishing visceral force and urgency : Johannsson's genius is to infuse his very postmodern music with a rare expressive intensity. Sublime." (Irish Times [Jocelyn Clarke])
Johann has been collaborating with the dancer and choreographer Erna Omarsdottir for several years; together they have performed a dance piece called IBM 1401, A Users Manual in more than 40 cities around Europe. When Johann signed to 4AD in 2005, he immediately set about reworking this music; originally written for string quartet, organ and electronics, IBM 1401, A Users Manual is much more expansive in its new incarnation. A 60 piece string orchestra was recorded at Pragues legendary Smecky Studio and the four original movements were joined by a completely new finale. The final mix, which incorporates electronics and vintage reel-to-reel recordings of an IBM 1401 mainframe computer, took place in Reykjavik at the beginning of 2006.
Johann Johannssons many other projects include membership of the group Apparat Organ Quartet - hailed by Neil Strauss in the New York Times as being "as innovative and meticulous as Sigur Ros, but who sound nothing like it." Although Apparat Organ Quartet formed as far back as 1999, they only released their debut album internationally in 2006. The band has played extensively in the last couple of years, including appearances at the Roskilde festival, Londons ICA, the Holland festival, New York´s Central Park Summerstage and Pompidou Center in Paris. The band was featured in a segment of PBSs Frontline show in 2003.
Johann has also produced and written music with other artists; hes worked with Marc Almond (on the Stranger Things album), Barry Adamson, Pan Sonic, The Hafler Trio, Jaki Liebezeit and many others. After the success of IBM 1401, A Users Manual, Johanns collaboration with the internationally renowned choreographer and dancer Erna Omarsdottir continued in 2005 with a new piece entitled Mysteries Of Love.
Johanns music was been featured in the film Wicker Park (Paul McGuigan, 2004) as well as forming an integral part of several art projects such as Lev Manovichs Mission To Earth (MIT Press 2005) and Gregory Colberts acclaimed film haikus Ashes And Snow (2006). Music for films and theatre figure prominently in Johanns work. Johann has composed music for no fewer than 5 feature films in his native Iceland. His most recent is for the film Blodbond (2006) by Arni Olafur Asgeirsson. Johann´s soundtrack album for the film Dis was released in 2005 in the US and in 2006 in Japan. In addition to the feature films, Johann has written music for numerous documentaries, theatre productions and several contemporary dance works.
Johann Johannsson has also performed his solo music with his ensemble - which includes a string quartet and a percussionist - in Europe over the last couple of years, visiting venues such as the Pompidou Center in Paris and the Vooruit in Belgium, and appearing at music and arts festivals in Germany and England. The ensemble will be touring the UK at the end of 2006.
Johann is also a founder member of the Icelandic label / think tank / art collective Kitchen Motors.