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Friday, December 10, 2004

Breaking The Ice
or how I found two new beautiful records

Jóhann Jóhannsson - Virthulegu forsetar

Jóhann writes: "During the first live performance of the piece, the church ceiling was filled with blue helium balloons which were timed to fall extremely slowly to the ground during the performance and scatter among the audience. To our pleasant surprise, the balloons reacted with the sound, falling with greater frequency as the volume increased. During the performance the light slowly changed through the church windows as the sun went down. The concert was fairly late, ending at around midnight and it being a bright, cloudless spring evening, the combination of all these physical and natural processes made for quite a memorable moment". "I had a number of things going through my mind during the writing of the piece, some of them being an obsession with entropy, Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49", postal horns, cybernetics, small birds, heat, space, energy, "singularities", Nietzsche's Eternal recurrence, Moebius strips. I'm absolutely not interested in imposing any one 'meaning' on the piece, but all these things were flying around somewhere in my head. A casual listener might categorize the piece as ambient or meditative, but I think this is really wrong - for me it's much more about chaos and tension rather than harmony. I go through many different emotions listening to the piece, veering from intense joy to acute sadness. The central point is perhaps how a very simple thing can change by going through a very simple process - something about change and transformation and the inevitability of chaos."

Jóhann Jóhannsson "Englabörn" (which is for now my favorite)

One song, "Odi et Amo", is a setting of Catullus's famous poem. He says "This was a happy accident; I'd written the music and wanted a computerized counter-tenor vocal singing a Latin text and was looking through a collection of Latin poetry when I remembered this poem from college and it did fit the melody perfectly and was also thematically perfect for the play. It’s in the final scene. What I really like about it is the harsh contrast of the computer voice and the strings, the alchemy of total opposites, the sewing machine and umbrella on a dissecting table”.

Jóhannsson continues: "The plays is extremely violent and disturbing and basically when faced with the script I decided to work against it as much as possible and just try to write the most beautiful music I could. That approach seems to have worked, at any rate, the music got really good reviews, the leading drama critic calling it "the most beautiful I've heard in Icelandic theatre." I must say I’ve never had such a strong reaction to anything I’ve done before; strangers have actually stopped me in the street and hugged me because of it...! Bizarre.. It is gratifying though, because it’s probably the most personal thing I've done. This stuff is very very close to me."

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