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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


Dimitri Shostakovich – ‘Op. 144 No. 15 in E flat minor’
It’s his last string quartet, and there’s this theory – kind of a cliché – that composers’ last string quartets are the most interesting ones. They tend to be written nearer the end of their lives and they’re these reflections on mortality – and this is certainly that, but it’s also a very beautiful work, especially the first movement. It’s one of my favourite pieces of music; it’s a piece of music that leads you – it’s hard to be unmoved by this music.

It’s hard to hear this piece of musical and be cynical – it doesn't really allow for that reaction.

No – and again it has this simplicity, which always appeals to me - and it’s all slow, it’s all adagio, there are no fast movements at all in that quartet. It’s a piece I’ve listened to since my early 20s and has had an influence, in its sparseness, on how I write the strings: it has a bleakness to it without lacking warmth and without it being melancholy. I don’t associate it with melancholy; I associate with a kind of very serious contemplation on mortality. It’s a deeply serious and strong piece of music whilst still being very accessible and very listenable.

Like I’ve been saying, I tend to gravitate toward simplicity and toward strong ideas that are expressed in original and characterful ways – I think that’s something that united all of the pieces in my list.

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