Posted on Nov 10th 2007 07:09 pm

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Jóhann Jóhannsson: Englabörn

4AD 2002/2007
16 Tracks. 48mins27secs

Last year, Icelandic contemporary classical composer Jóhann Jóhannsson released the superb IBM: A User’s Manual album, which drew from memories of his childhood and recordings made over forty years ago by Jóhannsson’s father, who was chief maintenance officer for the first IBM mainframe computer in Iceland, who had developed a way to produce music out of it, a purpose beyond the original scope of the machine. Four years before this, Jóhannsson released his debut album, Englabörn, on Touch, an album that his new label, 4AD, are now making available again.

The music featured on the album was originally developed as the score for an Icelandic play of the same title, and later adapted for the CD. Written for string quartet, piano, organ, glockenspiel and percussion, augmented with discreet electronics, Englabörn is an impressive collection of modern classical music. The album opens with the odd setting of Odi Et Amo, a piece which combines delicate string work with a computerized voice reciting a poem in Latin. This rather unusual juxtaposition instantly places Jóhannsson’s music somewhere between its natural classical realm and the much more contemporary terrains, involving electronics, used in Jóhannsson’s work. Follow a series of delicate short pieces, served primarily by a string quartet and a light dusting of piano. The mood is subdued and quiet, at times evoking the solitude of a walk in the snow on a crisp February morning. Pieces such as the title track, Joi Et Karen, “Eg Heyrdi Allt An Pess Ad Hlusta”, Karen Byr Til Engil or “Ef Eg Hefdi Aldrei…” are shrouded in light hazy shades, as Jóhannsson articulates melodies and instrumentation with grace. Even when he relies on the most minimal of surroundings, as on Bad or Krokodill, Jóhannsson assembles his rarefied elements to create admirable heartfelt pieces.

Sometimes, a more elaborate piece comes along, revealing for a moment more defined grounds. Salfraedingur draws from the percussions a steady strength and warmth that is unique on here, while the rapid cello and violin volutes of Englabörn-Tilbrigdi stand out amongst the more introvert pieces.

Englabörn, the play, is extremely violent and disturbing. When he began working on the score, Jóhannsson wanted to go in an entirely different direction with the music and create some of the most beautiful music he could. With delicate brushes and melancholic overtones, this work is charged with a whole range of powerful emotions and serves as a blueprint for the Icelandic composer’s more recent pieces.

Icon: arrow Jóhann Jóhannsson | 4AD | Touch
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One Response to “JÓHANN JÓHANNSSON: Englabörn (4AD)”

  1. […] he has been delivering since he made his debut on Touch almost ten years ago with the superb Englabörn, but the cinematic nature of his work has also led him to work on countless soundtracks for feature […]