Posted on Dec 23rd 2008 01:55 am

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Jóhann Jóhannsson: Fordlandia

4AD 2008
11 Tracks. 67mins03secs

The fifth album by Icelandic classical composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, Fordlândia takes its name from a megalomaniac project of Henry Ford, who bought 10,000 km2 of land in Brazil in the 1920s to produce the rubber that would be used for the tyres of Ford cars. The project ran into trouble after the indigenous workforce grew discontented with working conditions and rampant Americanisation. By 1945, Fordlândia was given a further blow as the use of synthetic rubber increased greatly, forcing Ford to sell the land at a considerable loss.

How much this actually filters through Jóhannsson’s latest opus is debatable, although the album was partly inspired by the idea of nature reclaiming the territory once invaded by industrial activities. Jóhannsson also notes a strong connection between this album and his previous work, IBM1401, A User’s Manual. Indeed, both pieces rely on swirling melodic themes and rich and contrasted emotional palettes which develop over the course of the respective albums, tainting each composition in a particular light while giving the overall album a very distinctive tone. Jóhannsson’s orchestral work has become more ambitious over the years, and, with Fordlândia, he continues to affirm his position as a composer. The opening and closing pieces alone show his ability to generate a whole range of emotions through extremely elaborate pieces. On the former, Jóhannsson works from a series of recurring musical phrases which are emphasised differently throughout the first ten minutes before descending into a much slower phase, while on the latter, he creates a much more nuanced sequence, which rises slowly from a soft organ part to form gentle waves before gaining momentum and finally explode into great streams of strings before slowly returning to a more minimal form. These two compositions, bookending this album, while very different in many respect, are amongst Jóhannsson’s most ambitious and mature.

The Rocket Builder (Io Pan!), Fordlândia – Arial View and Chimaerica, placed at the centre of the album, are more subtle and gentle pieces, which, while using similar forms, appear more introvert and delicate. Like Fordlândia, The Rocket Builder (Io Pan!) is partly built around recurring phrases, set as a form of dialogue between piano on one side and string formation on the other, which constantly swell and retract to reveal a beat in the background. Arial View and Chimaerica are even more minimal in structure, the latter, based on an organ part, with processed strings drizzled over it, giving an impression of desolation. A series of shorter pieces, Melodia I-IV, based on a series of variations recorded by clarinettist Guðni Franzson, recorded a few years ago and developed into Melodia (Guidelines For A Space Propulsion Device) later on, act as solemn punctuations and give this album a particular depth. A similar feel is applied to the beautiful The Great God Pan Is Dead, with at its core a text taken from a 19th century poem by English writer Elizabeth Barrett Browning telling of the death of god of the forest Pan and paganism, and the rise of monotheism, which Jóhannsson eventually links to industrialisation. In comparison, Melodia (Guidelines For A Space Propulsion Device) is a much lighter and upbeat, served by an underlying pulsating beat and melodic variations developing over the nine minutes of the piece.

In recent years, Jóhann Jóhannsson has developed rich and vibrant works, and his style has gained in maturity and expression. With Fordlândia, he continues to establish his highly personal style and creates a very confident piece of work.


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One Response to “JÓHANN JÓHANNSSON: Fordlândia (4AD)”

  1. Headphone Commuteon 26 Dec 2008 at 6:07 pm

    Fordlandia has made it as one of my absolutely favorite albums of 2008.