Jóhann Jóhannsson

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Jóhann Jóhannsson
Jóhann Jóhannsson in 2015
Jóhann Jóhannsson in 2015
Background information
Birth nameJóhann Gunnar Jóhannsson[1]
Born(1969-09-19)19 September 1969
Reykjavík, Iceland
Died9 February 2018(2018-02-09) (aged 48)
Berlin, Germany
  • Composer
  • producer
  • director
Years active1987–2018
  • Deutsche Grammophon
  • 4AD
  • Touch
  • 12 Tónar

Jóhann Gunnar Jóhannsson (Icelandic pronunciation: [ˈjouːhan ˈjouːhansɔn]; 19 September 1969 – 9 February 2018) was an Icelandic composer who wrote music for a wide array of media including theatre, dance, television, and film. His work is stylised by its blending of traditional orchestration with contemporary electronic elements.[2]

Jóhann released solo albums from 2002 onward. In 2016, he signed with Deutsche Grammophon, through which he released his last solo album, Orphée. Some of his works in film include the original scores for Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival, and James Marsh's The Theory of Everything. Jóhannsson was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score for both The Theory of Everything and Sicario, and won a Golden Globe for Best Original Score for the former. He was a music and sound consultant on Mother!, directed by Darren Aronofsky in 2017. His scores for Mary Magdalene and Mandy were released posthumously.

His only directorial work, Last and First Men, premiered at the Manchester International Festival in 2017, where he also performed the score live with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

Early life and career[edit]

Jóhann was born on 19 September 1969 in Reykjavík, Iceland, to Jóhann Gunnarsson, a maintenance engineer who worked for IBM, and Edda Thorkelsdóttir.[1] He learned the piano and trombone from the age of 11, but had given them up during his teenage years.[1] Jóhann attended the University of Iceland, where he studied languages and literature.[1]

Jóhann started his musical career in the late 1980s in the proto-shoegaze-influenced band Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, who released a couple of EPs which were played by British DJ John Peel and received a fan letter from Steve Albini.[3] He went on to work as a guitarist and producer playing in Icelandic indie rock bands, like Olympia, Unun and Ham.[4] In 1999, Jóhann co-founded Kitchen Motors;[4] a think tank, art organisation and music label that encouraged interdisciplinary collaborations between artists from punk, jazz, classical, metal and electronic music. His own sound arose out of these musical experimentations.[3]

Solo works[edit]

Jóhann's first solo album, Englabörn, was a suite based on the music written for the theatre piece of the same name. Jóhann approached the composition by recording string instruments and processing them through digital filters, which allowed him to deconstruct the recordings and reassemble them. The album combined holy minimalism, Satie, Purcell and Moondog with the electronic music of labels such as Mille Plateaux and Mego. Pitchfork gave Englabörn a score of 8.9, and described it as "exceptionally restrained, the piano moving like droplets off of slowly melting icicles, the violin breathing warmth from above. The hesitation of each breath and falling bead feels as though it were a Morton Feldman piece condensed to three minutes."[5]

For his second album, Virðulegu Forsetar, an hour-long ambient piece, Jóhann used an orchestra of 11 brass players, glockenspiel, piano and organ, with added bells and electronics, creating a sound that combined classical, ambient and experimental music.[6]

IBM 1401, A User's Manual, Jóhann's fourth studio album, was released on 30 October 2006 on the 4AD label. It was inspired by his father, an IBM engineer and one of Iceland's first computer programmers, who used early hardware to compose melodies during his downtime at work. Jóhann used sounds produced from the electromagnetic emissions of the IBM 1401 as part of the composition.[7]

Fordlandia, Jóhann's sixth full-length studio album, was released in November 2008 via 4AD, and was thematically influenced by the failure of Henry Ford's Brazilian rubber plant Fordlândia.[8]

In 2010, Jóhann collaborated with filmmaker Bill Morrison on The Miners' Hymns (2011), a film and accompanying composition for a brass band, pipe organ and electronics, based on coal-mining in County Durham. The film was noted for celebrating "social, cultural, and political aspects of the extinct industry, and the strong regional tradition of colliery brass bands".[9] The overall piece was itself a tribute to the miners strikes which occurred in the area during the 1980s. The piece premiered live in Durham Cathedral in July 2010 and was released on CD and DVD in May 2011. The album was described by the BBC as "a gorgeous brass-based requiem for northeast England's former mining community".[10] Writing in The Observer, Fiona Maddocks gave the London debut performance of the score at the Barbican five stars, writing, "The strange counterpoint between an Icelandic minimalist, an American filmmaker and a bitter episode in recent British history has resulted in a work as unclassifiable as it is unforgettable."[11]

In 2021 the Gold Dust EP was released, containing unused pieces from various previous projects.[12]

Film work[edit]

Jóhann had scored a number of works concurrent with his solo career through the 2000s including the Icelandic comedy Dis in 2004, TV series Svartir englar in 2007, and In the Arms of My Enemy in 2007. However it is his work with Denis Villeneuve for which he is best known.[13] His first collaboration with Villeneuve was Prisoners in 2013.[13] He subsequently worked on Villeneuve's films Sicario (2015), which was nominated for Academy Award for Best Original Score, and Arrival (2016).[13] Jóhann joined Villeneuve once again to work on Blade Runner 2049, but at some point during production Villeneuve decided that the music needed a change in direction.[14] In describing the artistic process for Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve stated that "the movie needed something different, and I needed to go back to something closer to Vangelis. Jóhann and I decided that I will need to go in another direction." Villeneuve brought in Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch to complete the project.[13] Jóhann's work on James Marsh's The Theory of Everything won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score in 2015.[13] His final works were for the films Mandy, The Mercy, and Mary Magdalene.[13] In an interview following the release of Arrival, Jóhann commented on his process stating that "it's about putting yourself in a receptive state of mind where you react to inputs, and it can be from anywhere. It doesn't really matter if you're writing for film or if you're doing your own piece; you always have to put yourself into that space." He went on to say, "there are practical parameters, of course, involved in writing film music rather than doing your own album, but I view them very much as the same body of work. And, for me, there are very clear lines for me between Englabörn to Arrival."[citation needed]

Prior to his death he had been hired to compose the score for Disney's Christopher Robin, but died before he had begun work on it.[15]

His only feature film directed by himself, Last and First Men, premiered two years after his death at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival, where it received widespread acclaim.[16]

Collaborations and other projects[edit]

In March 2015, Jóhann teamed up with ACME (American Contemporary Music Ensemble) and the Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth to perform Drone Mass. described as a contemporary oratorio, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.[17] His list of collaborators included Tim Hecker, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Pan Sonic, CAN drummer Jaki Liebezeit, Marc Almond, Barry Adamson, and Stephen O'Malley of Sunn O))). In 1999, Jóhann founded the Apparat Organ Quartet, which has released two albums since 2002 with live performances in Europe, America and Japan.[18]

Personal life[edit]

Jóhannsson left Reykjavík in the early 2000s, living in Copenhagen before settling in Kreuzberg, Berlin.[19] He had a daughter, Karolina Jóhannsdóttir, who lives in Copenhagen.[1][20]

Jóhannsson died in Berlin on 9 February 2018 at the age of 48.[1] German toxicology reports indicated that a lethal combination of cocaine and flu medication was the likely cause of his death.[21]


Solo albums[edit]

Film score albums[edit]

  • Dís (2004, 12 Tónar, in Iceland; 2005, The Worker's Institute, in the US)[22]
  • Personal Effects (2009, Deutsche Grammophon)
  • The Miners' Hymns (2011, 12 Tónar, FatCat)[22]
  • Free The Mind (2012, NTOV)
  • Copenhagen Dreams (2012, 12 Tónar)[22]
  • Prisoners (2013, WaterTower Music)[22]
  • McCanick by John C. Waller (2014, Milan Records)[22]
  • I Am Here (with B.J. Nilsen) (2014, Ash International)[22]
  • The Theory of Everything (2014, Back Lot Music)[22]
  • Sicario (2015, Varèse Sarabande)[22]
  • Arrival (2016, Deutsche Grammophon)[22]
  • The Mercy (2018, Deutsche Grammophon)
  • Mary Magdalene (2018, Milan Records)
  • Mandy (2018, Lakeshore/Invada)
  • Last and First Men (2020, Deutsche Grammophon)
  • Blind Massage (with Jonas Colstrup) (2022, Soundtrack Magazine)
  • The Shadow Play (with Jonas Colstrup) (2022, Soundtrack Magazine)


  • "The Sun's Gone Dim and the Sky's Turned Black" (2006, 4AD)



  • Margrét Mikla by Kristín Ómarsdóttir (1996, Icelandic Take-away Theatre)
  • Vitleysingarnir by Ólafur Haukur Símonarsson (2000, Hafnarfjördur Theater)
  • Fireface by Marius Von Mayerberg (2000, RÚV)
  • Englabörn by Hávar Sigurjónsson (2001, Hafnarfjördur Theater)
  • Kryddlegin Hjörtu by Laura Esquivel (2002, Borgarleikhús)
  • Viktoría og Georg by Ólafur Haukur Símonarsson (2002, Icelandic National Theatre)[18]
  • Pabbastrákur by Hávar Sigurjónsson (2003, Icelandic National Theatre)[18]
  • Jón Gabríel Borkman by Henrik Ibsen (2004, Icelandic National Theatre)[18]
  • Dínamít by Birgir Sigurðsson (2005, Icelandic National Theatre)[18]
  • Døden i Teben by Sophocles/Jon Fosse (2008, Det Norske Teatret)
  • Ganesh versus the Third Reich by Back to Back Theatre (2011, Back to Back Theatre)[18]

Contemporary dance[edit]

  • IBM 1401, a User's Manual with Erna Ómarsdóttir (2002)[18]
  • Mysteries of Love with Erna Ómarsdóttir (2005)[18]



Year Title Director Notes
2000 Íslenski draumurinn Róbert Ingi Douglas [28]
Óskabörn þjóðarinnar Jóhann Sigmarsson [28]
2002 A Man Like Me Róbert Ingi Douglas [28]
2004 Dís Silja Hauksdóttir [28]
2006 Blóðbönd AKA Thicker than Water Árni Óli Ásgeirsson [28]
2008 Personal Effects David Hollander [28]
2010 By Day and by Night Alejandro Molina
Dreams in Copenhagen Max Kestner [28]
2011 The Miners' Hymns Bill Morrison
The Good Life Eva Mulvad [29]
2012 For Ellen So Yong Kim [29]
Mystery Lou Ye [27]
2013 McCanick John C. Waller [29]
Prisoners Denis Villeneuve [29]
2014 I Am Here (with BJNilsen) Anders Morgenthaler [27]
Blind Massage Lou Ye with Jonas Colstrup[30]
The Theory of Everything James Marsh [29]
2015 Sicario Denis Villeneuve [29]
2016 Lovesong So Yong Kim [29]
Arrival Denis Villeneuve [29]
2017 Mother! Darren Aronofsky Unused[13]
Blade Runner 2049 Denis Villeneuve Unused[13]
2018 Mandy Panos Cosmatos [13]
The Mercy James Marsh [13]
Mary Magdalene Garth Davis with Hildur Guðnadóttir[13]
Christopher Robin Marc Forster Incomplete at time of death[31]
The Shadow Play Lou Ye with Jonas Colstrup[30]


Year Title Director Notes
2012 Free the Mind Phie Ambo [32]
White Black Camilla Magid [33]

Short films[edit]

Year Title Director Notes
2003 Keepsake Tim Shore [34]
2008 Varmints Marc Craste [35]
2011 Junk Love Nikolaj Feifer [36]
2015 End of Summer Jóhann Jóhannsson [18]


Year Title Network Notes
1999 Corpus Camera Stöð 2
2000 Leyndardómar Íslenskra Skrímsla Sjónvarpið
2000 Erró- Norður, suður, austur, vestur Stöð 2
2007 Svartir Englar
2015 Trapped RÚV with Hildur Gudnadóttir and Rutger Hoedemaekers[37]
2016 The OA Netflix
2017 The Handmaid's Tale "Faithful" Hulu

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Codrea-Rado, Anna (12 February 2018). "Johann Johannsson, Award-Winning Movie Composer, Dies at 48". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 14 February 2018. Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  2. ^ "Jóhann Jóhannsson, Oscar-Nominated Composer, Dies at 48". Billboard.com. 10 February 2018. Archived from the original on 11 February 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  3. ^ a b "History Of Jóhann: The Composer's Path Through The Reykjavík Scene". Grapevine.is. 9 September 2016. Archived from the original on 22 October 2016. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
  4. ^ a b Blais-Billie, Braudie; Minsker, Evan (10 February 2018). "Jóhann Jóhannsson Dead at 48". PitchFork. Archived from the original on 10 February 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  5. ^ "Jóhann Jóhann: Englabörn Album Review | Pitchfork". pitchfork.com. Archived from the original on 27 October 2016. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  6. ^ "Virðulegu Forsetar". Johannjohannson.com. Archived from the original on 12 February 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  7. ^ "Jóhann Jóhannsson : IBM 1401, A User's Manual". www.ausersmanual.org. Archived from the original on 16 October 2016. Retrieved 19 October 2016. Inspired by a recording of an IBM mainframe computer which Jóhann's father, Jóhann Gunnarsson, made on a reel-to-reel tape machine more than 30 years ago, the piece was originally written to be performed by a string quartet as the accompaniment to a dance piece by the choreographer Erna Ómarsdóttir. For the album version, Jóhann rewrote the entire score, and it was recorded by a sixty-piece string orchestra. He also added a new final section and incorporated electronics alongside those original tape recordings of the singing computer.
  8. ^ "Fordlandia". Allmusic.com. Archived from the original on 12 February 2018. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
  9. ^ DOMH. "FatCat Records". FatCat Records. Archived from the original on 20 October 2016. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  10. ^ Grady, Spencer. "BBC – Music – Review of Jóhann Jóhannsson – The Miners' Hymns". Archived from the original on 4 July 2017. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  11. ^ Maddocks, Fiona (15 March 2014). "The Miners' Hymns review – a rich seam of music and mine". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 20 October 2016. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  12. ^ "Jóhann Jóhannsson's Unreleased Songs Collected in New EP Gold Dust". Pitchfork. 10 August 2021. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Arrival composer Jóhann Jóhannsson has died at the age of 48". Verge.com. 10 February 2018. Archived from the original on 10 February 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  14. ^ Haubrich, Wess. "We Finally Know Why Jóhann Jóhannson Parted Ways with 'Blade Runner: 2049'". The 405. Archived from the original on 17 March 2018. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  15. ^ Roxborough, Scott (14 February 2018). "Johann Johannsson's Death Leaves Friends Shocked, Questions Unanswered". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Archived from the original on 16 February 2018. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  16. ^ "Best & Worst Films at the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival". Metacritic.
  17. ^ "Johann Johannsson-"Drone Mass" - Met Museum World Premiere". Popmatters.com. 7 May 2015. Archived from the original on 11 February 2018. Retrieved 10 February 2018.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Projects - Jóhann Jóhannsson". Johannjohannsson.com. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  19. ^ Brimmers, Julian (10 January 2017). "Soundtrack Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson on Arrival, Sicario and The Theory of Everything". Red Bull Music Academy. Archived from the original on 27 December 2019. Retrieved 12 February 2020.
  20. ^ Brimmers, Julian (11 February 2018). "Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson dies". Deutsche Welle. Archived from the original on 8 March 2021. Retrieved 12 February 2020.
  21. ^ Burlingame, Jon (13 September 2018). "The Music of 'Mandy': How Johann Johannsson Melded Horror With Heavy Metal". Variety. Archived from the original on 4 December 2019. Retrieved 12 February 2020.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Jóhann Jóhannsson". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 11 February 2018. Retrieved 10 February 2018.
  23. ^ "Jóhann Jóhannsson: Orphée Album Review | Pitchfork". pitchfork.com. Archived from the original on 22 October 2016. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  24. ^ "Jóhann Jóhannsson's debut album Englabörn receives posthumous reissue with new remixes". factmag.com. Archived from the original on 5 April 2018. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  25. ^ "Questionnaire" (PDF). www.thiloheinzmann.com.
  26. ^ "Jóhann Jóhannsson: 12 Conversations With Thilo Heinzmann". Pitchfork. Retrieved 28 January 2022.
  27. ^ a b c "Projects - Jóhann Jóhannsson". JohannJohannson.com. Archived from the original on 11 February 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  28. ^ a b c d e f g "How Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson Helped Change the Genre Cinema Soundscape". Variety.com. 10 February 2018. Archived from the original on 11 February 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h "Johann Johannsson". Allmovie.com. Archived from the original on 11 February 2018. Retrieved 10 February 2018.
  30. ^ a b "The Shadow Play - Jonas Colstrup". jonascolstrup.com. Archived from the original on 3 September 2019. Retrieved 3 September 2019.
  31. ^ "Johann Johannsson Death - Hollywood Reporter". The Hollywood Reporter. 14 February 2018. Archived from the original on 16 February 2018. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  32. ^ "FREE THE MIND". Danishdocumentary.com. Archived from the original on 15 February 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  33. ^ "White Black Boy". Fonik.dk. Archived from the original on 9 February 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  34. ^ "Keepsake". Britishcouncil.org. Archived from the original on 12 February 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  35. ^ "STUDIO AKA: VARMINTS". Studioaka.oco,uk. Archived from the original on 11 February 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  36. ^ "Junk Love -Filmagasinet Ekko". ekkofilm.dk. Archived from the original on 9 October 2017. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  37. ^ "'Trapped' score wins Eddan Award". JohannJohannsson.com. Archived from the original on 12 February 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2018.

External links[edit]