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AUDIO WATCHDOG


By Douglas E. Winter 


Kvikmyndatónlist (Part Three)


The atmospheric and ambient impulses of con- temporary Icelandic music find a pinnacle in the canon of the island’s most renowned film composer, Jóhann Jóhannsson. Lauded (at long last) with a Golden Globe for his score for James Marsh’s THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014, Universal BLM0280, $16.78, 27 tracks, 48m 58s)—the most pleasing, but not the best, of his film work— Jóhannsson exemplifies the conflicts central to Iceland’s thriving music: the carefree and the cere- bral, the mannered and the passionate, the expan- sive and the claustrophobic, the sacred and the profane.


Although Jóhannsson’s music is minimalist and post-classical, a better word for his ambition is primalism: the pursuit of an essence, sonic and emotional. A signature composition, “Flight from the City,” finds Jóhannsson repeating an identical eighteen-note piano sequence as a string quartet unveils a poignant atmosphere. (It’s best experienced via a live KCRW performance available on YouTube.) Jóhannsson’s career seems defined by its lack of easy definition. In his words: “People seem to need labels, but they can be needlessly reductive.” In 1999, he founded Apparat Organ Quartet with fellow keyboard artists Hörður Bragason, Sighvatur Ómar Kristinsson, and Úlfur Eldjárn—later adding live drummer Arnar Geir Ómarsson. To date, this


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retro/experimental rock ensemble has released two albums: APPARAT ORGAN QUARTET (2002; 12 Tónar 12T021, €15.00, 9 tracks, 47m 28s) and POLY- FONIA (2010; 12 Tónar 12T053, €16.00, 9 tracks, 46m 20s). Inspired by Kraftwerk (as underscored by the vocoder anthem “Cargo Frakt”), their music suggests Ralf & Florian & Karl & Wolfgang joining Philip Glass—on steroids and with an attitude— driving vintage keyboards through analogue filters and effects pedals with abandon. But there is also an Italian horror film influence, shown in the likes of a seeming homage to Fabio Frizzi, “Söngur Geimunglingsins.”


The Italian horror influence appears more strongly in Evil Madness, Jóhannsson’s second collabora- tive rock project, this time with BJ Nilsen, Helgi Thórsson, Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson, and Pétur Eyvindsson. Deploying a breathtaking array of vin- tage instruments and song titles like “La Magica Vendetta dell’Inferno” and “Un Tassista Mangia Cozze Al Mare,” Evil Madness pursues instrumental house/electro from the dark side on DEMON JUKE- BOX (2006; 12 Tónar 12T033, €15.00, 13 tracks, 54m 37s), DEMONI PARADISO (2008; 12 Tónar 12T047, €15.00, 13 tracks, 72m 7s), and (without Jóhannsson) SUPER GREAT LOVE (2011; Editions Mego DeMego 018, €14.00, 9 tracks, 43m 2s). Jóhannsson’s recorded debut as a “solo” artist came with the score for the Havar Sigurjonsson play ENGLABÖRN (2002; Touch TO52/4AD CAD 2733CD, £10.42, 16 tracks, 47m 56s), whose elec- tronically processed music for string quartet, piano, organ, harmonium, glockenspiel, and percussion— including an AppleTalk counter-tenor voicing Jóhannsson’s adaptation of Catullus’ poem “Odi et Amo”—drew immediate comparisons with art- ists as diverse as Craig Armstrong, Arvo Pärt,

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