Jóhann Jóhannsson

Photography by James Underwood & AB photographer Karen Vandenberghe

Jóhann Jóhannsson – The Sun’s Gone Dim And The Sky’s Turned Black
The Sun’s Gone Dim and the Sky’s Turned Black (2006)

Growing up listening to an unusual combination of classical and rock music has opened Jóhann Jóhannsson to a musical world without restraints. Hence, Jóhann has found a special place for his music in between the simplicity and grandeur of timelessness. The contemporary classical artist composes through innovative recording techniques fused with an intimate approach, a personal sensitivity to sounds that possess a curious ability to appease. He started out writing for theatre and over the years, evolved to creating scores for documentaries and films with a single motivation in mind—to move people with his music.

Hi Jóhann, how are you? Could you tell us what you have been up to recently?

I’m releasing a soundtrack to my collaboration with filmmaker Bill Morrison called The Miners’ Hymns. It is kind of a requiem for the mining culture of North England. Working with this branch of England’s industrial heritage appealed to me and was in line with some themes I had worked with. We spent some time in North East England, Bill researching film archives while I worked with local musicians. We talked about the structure of the film and what visual materials Bill would concentrate on, but the music was written first. I didn’t see any finished edits until before the live performance in Durham Cathedral. Somewhere in between these, I am also finalizing mixes for an album of my recent film scores and making sketches for a new studio album.

Johann johannsson music

That sounds like a lot on your plate. While there are no fixed methods to composing, could you tell us about your working process?

I don’t have a process, really. Ideas are rather indiscriminate about when and where they appear. I try to be mindful and awake enough to spot them. Once the idea is there, the rest is more left-brain work, a process of structuring and creating form. It’s like the difference between finding a gold mine and actual mining. It can be very quick and effortless or may take years—it’s down to luck or grace. The mining itself is something you approach in a very ordered way.

The hardest part is starting a project with a blank page in front of you. There are several days of agony and feeling worthless to go through, before something happens. This stage is very important. Painful as it is, the subconscious is doing a lot of work and needs time to bring things to the surface. Each project has its own set of challenges, but I approach everything in a similar way, I don’t put a special hat on to do soundtracks and another one to do solo albums. I like having a variety of projects with different collaborators. The projects inform and influence each other. I guess it is also about being sensitive to the moments that matter.

Read more in N˚3: Fight.