Sun’s Gone Dim : RIP Johann Johannsson

The last three weekends I’ve barely left my pajama pants, let alone my house. Winter blues? Middle age aches and pains? The hermit transformation nearly complete? Maybe a little of all of that. Anyways, this weekend I wasn’t going to melt into the caverns of the couch watching a Sam Raimi marathon like I did last weekend, so yesterday after morning coffee I changed into my workout clothes and dutifully headed into the YMCA. I was gonna put in some laps on the walking track upstairs come hell or high water. On lap three I glanced on my phone to see the headline that Icelandic musician/film composer Johann Johannsson had died in Berlin on Friday, February 9th. He was 48 years old. No cause of death has been determined or released at this time. But 48 years old? That’s not an age where you just randomly drop dead. Jesus.

I have to be honest, I was and am gutted. I didn’t know anything about Johannsson until I watched Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. I absolutely love the film. It pretty much turned me inside out, and a major part of that was the haunting and beautiful score by Johann Johannsson. It really captured the mysterious quality of the film; are these aliens truly friendly or are there ulterior motives behind their sudden “arrival”? The music Johannsson composed for the film carries a vastness and an alien quality to it. It truly felt like he locked into some unknown musical language to create something truly special.

Once I was aware of him I jumped into his back catalog. His previous work with Villeneuve, like the scores for Prisoners and Sicario are as equally compelling. I haven’t heard what he did for Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, but I plan to very soon. His album IBM 1401, A User’s Manual is a work of art. An ode to technology, nostalgia, and also an ode to Johannsson’s father who worked for IBM at the beginning.

What I was looking forward to most this year is the release of Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy. It’s a post-apocalyptic film that takes place in the early 80s that stars Nicholas Cage. Cage’s wife is murdered by a group of roving biker mutants and Cage is left for dead. The second half of the film is Cage reeking sweet revenge on the group of mutant murderers and their cult-ish leader. The film was scored by Johann Johannsson and it’s one of my most anticipated films and scores of the year. Cosmatos’ previous film, the dark and eerie Beyond The Black Rainbow is one of my favorite movies in recent years. There is a plot, but that’s not what’s important. What is important is the visual style of Cosmatos and how he engages the senses, sight and sound, in his work. On Rainbow, Cosmatos worked with the amazing Sinoia Caves. That soundtrack is one of my absolute favorite scores. I can only imagine that Johann Johannsson’s score will do the same for Mandy.

I think I’ll get a few more laps in today. Sinking into the couch just doesn’t sound like something I want to do to. You know, seize the day and all that. I’ll start out with Arrival, and then on lap 10 I’ll switch to IBM 1401, A User’s Manual. I hope Johann Johannsson is at peace, wherever he is.

Johann Johannsson, born September 19th, 1969 and died February 9th, 2018. He was 48.

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