He had a meteoric rise as a composer, and now suddenly, shockingly, he’s passed away. Jóhann Jóhannsson had a unique sound, which isn’t something you can say about many composers working in Hollywood. In the clip above from Hollywood Resume TV, Jóhannsson talks about his work on Prisoners in 2013.
Born in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1969, Jóhannsson started out playing guitar in indie bands but showed an interest early on in fusing different genres and experimenting with music. His first solo album “Englabörn” (2002) showed what was to come – minimalistic music, a connection between the classical and the electronic. Jóhannsson released several studio albums before showing a greater interest in movie scores. In 2010 he collaborated with the New York filmmaker Bill Morrison and two years later he released a score for the Chinese film Mystery.
Prisoners was Jóhannsson’s first collaboration with Denis Villeneuve; his music would truly define the director’s movies, creating a discreetly mysterious and brooding soundscape. His work for Sicario (2015) was Oscar-nominated and the score for Arrival (2016) was an integral part of the communication between mankind and aliens in the film. Jóhannsson’s most accessible score was likely The Theory of Everything (2015), which was also Oscar-nominated and became his breakthrough. There’s a beautiful sample in the clip above.
Jóhannsson’s music was perhaps a tad too minimalistic for my taste, but I’ll certainly keep listening to see what I’m missing and what so many in the film industry did appreciate about the composer. There are several high-profile scores coming up that he had completed, including for James Marsh’s The Mercy and Garth Davis’s Mary Magdalene.
I have an ongoing project on Spotify where I try to compile lists of various film composers’ best work. Here’s my take on Jóhann Jóhannsson.