Inspiration Through Music: Johann Johannsson

A couple years ago, I was introduced to a short animated film called Varmints. This 24 minute film covers themes of deforestation and urbanization in a touching and inspiring narrative. While I was impressed with the film, its music, composed by Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson, was what I truly enjoyed about it. The kind of music that is subtle and dark and lovely in its composition because it’s not trying too hard to be noticed. It complimented the imagery on screen and hinted at the darker themes that the film was highlighting. I kept an eye on his other projects and was excited to see that he composed for the film, “Prisoners”, a thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman. Both protagonists in their pursuit for justice and understanding, begin to slide down a blurring path or morality and find themselves doing things they never thought they’d be capable of. As of late, Johannsson has won a Golden Globe Award for his work on the Stephen Hawking biopic, “The Theory of Everything”.

I’ve found myself listening several pieces of Johannsson’s work (most notably to the Prisoners Original Soundtrack) while working on my current WIP. The novel takes place on the brink of an apocalyptic event, which isolates the protagonist and pushes her into a situation where she must rely on her wits and any inner strength to get through the harsh winter and deal with other frightened survivors. Johannsson’s music feels solitary, malevolent, and mysterious. There are all kinds of unknown dangers lurking outside, things that we can’t prepare for. And while the danger and strife presents itself in low cello notes and resonant drum beats, there is also an echo of hope and an idea of survivalism that surfaces in several tracks. Today, I’d like to share a few of his tracks from various albums with you and describe what I see when I listen to them. Enjoy.

Through Falling Snow: (Prisoners Original Soundtrack) – I stood there in the darkness, tugging my coat closer to me and watching the flickering candlelight below me. It was as if I’d never been so cold in my entire life and all I wanted to do was collapse in on myself. The people around me existed in their own grief, they clung to others as if they were mere objects and not fellow sufferers. People became blind. I, too, was beginning to lose sight in the black.

Here They Used to Build Ships: (Copenhagen Dreams Soundtrack) – In the dust, I imagined I could see them, the sturdy arms and statures, hundreds of them spotted around the room as they worked. They were lost inside the glinting specks of a time long before and suddenly, I longed to be lost in it with them. This place had once been so necessary, and now it sat forgotten on the edge of a crumbling city. It was sort of beautiful in its isolation but a marred beauty compared with its former glory, I was sure.

Escape: (Prisoners Original Soundtrack and Varmints) – Realization, malefic and whole had landed on my shoulders. I understood what this place was now and I understood how I’d become trapped inside of it. It was all my own doing. It was never anyone else’s fault, not some kind of divine sentencing, a kind of hell to drag me down inside its abyss. This place was very real and very dangerous. And there was a way to leave it. I just had to keep my eyes open for the exit as it was likely to be in an improbable place.

Inside the Pods: (Varmints) – When I opened my eyes, I existed inside a new space. There was no color here, a place ruled by white light and black shadows, shades I had become myself. Everything I knew, everything I’d left behind was suddenly a memory. The existence of this new reality sent barbs of panic through me. Where was I now? What kind of world had I come to inhabit? And what was in store for me beyond the door?

Interested in learning more about Johann Johannsson? Visit his official website here!

Stay tuned for more Inspiration Through Music next Monday.



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