Johann Johannsson, composer of haunting Hollywood film scores, dies
Johann Johannsson, composer of haunting Hollywood film scores, dies
Johannsson was found dead Friday at his apartment in Berlin, where authorities were investigating the cause of death, said Tim Husom, his Los Angeles-based manager.
“I’m so very sad. Today, I lost my friend who was one of the most talented musicians and intelligent people I knew,” Husom said in a statement.
Johannsson, who blended classical form and electronic instrumentation, had become an increasingly in-demand musician for directors whose films probed more theoretical ideas.
He won the Golden Globe for Best Original Score for “The Theory of Everything,” about physicist Stephen Hawking.
Johannsson was nominated again for “Arrival,” for which he altered human voices to create amorphous, otherworldly sounds to dramatize the story of a linguist seeking to communicate with an extraterrestrial visitor.
He scored several films out in 2018, including “Mary Magdalene,” a biblical drama about the much-debated female follower of Jesus.
While Johannsson won acclaim outside of the film world as an avant-garde composer, he was careful never to make his music needlessly convoluted or overbearing.
He kept strong, repeated melodies and said that many movies had far too much music, not allowing silences that were also crucial.
“I think my music is a way of communicating very directly with people and with people’s emotions. I try to make music that doesn’t need layers of complexity or obfuscation to speak to people,” he told the online interview magazine The Talks in 2015.
Daniel Pemberton, the composer for films including Danny Boyle’s biopic “Steve Jobs,” said he sat transfixed when he heard Johannsson’s music for “Sicario,” which showed “you could still do something radically new in mainstream film music.”
“He was always pushing the boundaries, creating works of art so unique and exciting it becomes hard to imagine they didn’t exist before,” Pemberton wrote on Twitter.
The experimental DJ Flying Lotus tweeted that he was in “disbelief” over his death, calling Johannsson a major influence and hailing his score for the new thriller “Mandy.”
Growing up in Reykjavik, Johannsson said he listened to everything from John Philip Sousa marches to deafening shoegaze rockers The Jesus and Mary Chain, but was transformed when he discovered ambient music pioneer Brian Eno.
Largely self-taught as a musician, Johannsson studied literature and took inspiration from the French Oulipo school of writers such as Georges Perec who aimed to stir up fresh ideas by imposing constraining rules on their compositions.
Johannsson co-founded Kitchen Motors, the influential Icelandic artist collective that also helped launch experimental rockers Sigur Ros, and in 2002 released his first album, “Englaborn,” set to a theatrical piece.
His most ambitious albums included “IBM 1401, A User’s Manual,” inspired by the early mass-manufactured computer.
Johannsson’s father, a programmer in 1960s Iceland, had playfully transformed the computer into a musical instrument by making reel-to-reel recordings.
Turning the concept of computerized music on its head, Johannsson made his ode to the clunky old computer fully human by writing for a 60-piece string orchestra.
He again brought in strings for the mournful melodies of his 2008 album “Fordlandia,” inspired by Henry Ford’s disastrous project to build a city for rubber plant workers in Brazil.
Johannsson in 2016 signed a record deal with leading classical label Deutsche Grammophon and released “Orphee,” an exploration of portrayals of Orpheus, the legendary bard of music, from ancient Greece onward.
Johannsson had little sign of slowing down and was recently announced on the lineup of Barcelona’s Primavera Sounds festival.
“Arrival” was Johannsson’s third film collaboration with Denis Villeneuve, although the French Canadian director surprisingly replaced him for last year’s anticipated sci-fi sequel “Blade Runner 2049.”
Middle Eastern art exhibition celebrates life and work of Kahlil Gibran
LONDON: What is it about the work of the famed Lebanese poet, writer and artist Kahlil Gibran that touches the hearts of so many people across the world today, decades on from his death in 1931? An exhibition of art inspired by his writings held this month at Sotheby’s in London provided an opportunity to consider that question
“Kahlil Gibran: A Guide for our Times” was organized by the peace building movement, Caravan, and co-curated by Janet Rady and Marion Fromlet Baecker. It featured work by 38 artists from across the Middle East. The vision for the exhibition grew out of a recent book on Gibran titled “In Search of a Prophet: A Spiritual Journey with Kahlil Gibran” by the Rev. Canon Paul-Gordon Chandler, Caravan’s founding president.
Chandler is committed to breaking down cultural, racial and religious barriers. Through the Caravan initiative he has hosted numerous exhibitions using art to build bridges between the Middle East and the West. He sees the message contained in Gibran’s 1923 book “The Prophet” as profoundly relevant today.
Speaking to Arab News at the packed-out event, he said: “All the artists in this exhibition are trying to express how they have been inspired, challenged and encouraged by Gibran’s themes of peace, love and harmony for all of humanity. The thread running through all the work is the unique role that Gibran plays in reminding us that we are one family.
“The idea of the Caravan movement is that we are all journeying together, regardless of background, tradition or religion,” he continued. “The arts have a unique role in peace-building between the Middle East and the West.”
Lebanese-Syrian artist Rana Chalabi, who was raised in Lebanon, said she first read “The Prophet” at school, but made a point of re-reading it several times before starting work on her contribution to the piece, “On Giving.”
Her painting shows a throng of people gazing upwards at a transcendent figure — the Prophet — who seems to shimmer above the multitude in hues of gold.
“To me, Gibran’s Prophet represents an enlightened mystic,” she explained. “He was so ahead of his time and such a spiritual person.”
For Chalabi, Gibran’s work continues to resonate. “The wisdom of Gibran is very much needed today,” she said. “He could explain his ideas in a simple way to people. In his day he was misunderstood and branded a heretic by those who missed the essence of what he was saying and took his teachings at a very superficial level.”
Chalabi was clearly pleased to have been invited to submit work to Caravan’s exhibition.
“I believe in what Rev. Chandler is trying to do,” she said. “We have to bridge the differences in the world and try to understand each other’s religions, cultures and perspectives.”
Bahraini artist Lulwa Al-Khalifa showed a striking painting of a woman, titled
“Blind Faith.” The starkly expressive figure looks perplexed and stares out from the painting with an abstract and tense expression.
Al-Khalifa said: “There are a lot of emotions I wanted to convey through this work. I was exploring the concept of faith and how sometimes people have to abandon some of the ideas that give them their own sense of identity and take a leap of faith. I consider the question ‘How much of you are you prepared to surrender for your faith?’ Faith is surrender with cause but without proof. Sometimes people have to face ambivalence, fear and anxiety on this journey.”
Al-Khalifa also stressed how relevant Gibran outlook remains today.
“I love how Gibran explored many aspects of many themes. His thought process is very fresh and modern — even today,” she said. “It is not rigid, but very hopeful and expresses love and acceptance.
“I really believe that all people are united as human beings. But we try so hard to separate from each other, even though in reality we all have the same concerns and loves and hates. We should come together,” she continued.
Lebanese artist Christine Saleh Jamil echoed Al-Khalifa’s sentiments. “Gibran means so much to me. Reading his book ‘The Prophet’ taught me a lot about life, how to live peacefully and accept things in a harmonious way,” she said. “His message is very important today.”
Jamil created “The Wanderer,” a captivating image of Gibran as a child, for the exhibition. Her work, she said, was based on a photograph and inspired by Chandler’s book, which, she said, “took me back to my childhood in Beirut.”
“That’s why I chose to represent Gibran as a child and in this image you see his face set among birch trees, as he loved nature,” she explained.
Lebanon’s ambassador to the UK, Rami Mortada — a special guest at the event — spoke to Arab News about Gibran’s legacy.
“The interest shown here tonight and the big turnout is an indication of how the message he stands for is relevant, badly needed and timely in our world today,” Mortada said. “It is a message of harmony and peace, of removing barriers between nations and cultures, and of interfaith dialogue. This is what Gibran encapsulated. If I had to sum up his work up in one word, I would say (it is) inspirational.”
Another ambassador, Dr. Alisher Shaykhov from Uzbekistan, stressed that Gibran’s work is of truly global significance.
“Gibran’s fame extends far beyond the Middle East. He is a person who has succeeded in transferring the spirit of the Islamic people in a harmonious way,” he observed. “One of his most important messages is that of the unifying elements, rather than the differences, between religions. He has a gift of being able to express the feelings of the people. The artists here, imbued with his spirit, have transferred his message through their artworks in their own personal way.”
Art enthusiast Mira Takla said she had attended a number of ‘Caravan’ art events and always found their message very persuasive.
“As far as I am concerned these events do more for interracial understanding and comprehension and tolerance of different cultures than many other such initiatives,” she said.
Another guest. Anthony Wynn, gave a good example of Gibran’s cross-cultural appeal, pointing out that he had often heard Gibran quoted at weddings in the UK — particularly a verse from “On Marriage” from “The Prophet”:
“Love one another, but make not a bond of love/Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls/Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup/Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf/Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone/Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”