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Baker's Dozen

A Kind Of Visceral Quality: Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Favourite Records
Karl Smith , October 27th, 2016 10:38

With the imminent release of his score for Arrival, the latest in a now thriving partnership with Denis Villeneuve that will see him take on Blade Runner next year, the Icelandic composer shows traditional reluctance in crafting a list of defining albums and opts instead of 13 works that exemplify a philosophy of minimal gestures with maximum impact


The Hafler Trio – The Mastery of Money
He is the minimalist - especially during this period. He was someone that I spent a lot of time with when he lived in Iceland, and he introduced me to a lot of very esoteric music. This was in the early-to-mid-90s – pre-internet, at a time when it was very hard to access strange and wonderful music. Rare recordings were hard to come by, and he had a huge archive of cassettes and LPs and reel-to-reel recordings that he was very generous to share with me and expose me to.

I could have mentioned several of his albums; I think I’ve picked out one sort of at random, though it is a very strong sample of what he was doing at the time. The Mastery of Money is very minimal and very conceptual, and very singular. He’s responsible for a lot of what I was exposed to in terms of music and literature and esoteric things related to mysticism and occultism – and a philosophy of working, also. It was like having an art teacher living next door who would come in regularly and give me pointers and gentle nudges.

Was it important for you having someone there who could, in a sense, guide you in the right direction not just with your work but with your listening, too?

I think in Iceland at the time it was very easy to be isolated and to basically just listen to The Smiths and the Jesus and Mary Chain – which is basically what we got – whereas he opened up a world of older and newer music, which also pointed in all sorts of other interesting directions and opened up a lot of doors for me. I guess that’s why people go to art school. But Andrew McKenzie was my art school.

There are clear advantages to having everything at your fingertips, but you appreciate things more when you have to look for them. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s not something that should be taken for granted.

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