Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Johann Johannsson and the sound of peace and quiet

Johann Johannsson is an Icelandic composer whose music is approvingly described as "haunting". That's the word critics always reach for when they can't hang their hat on the beat or the lyrics. "Haunting" is what people who've got university degrees use to describe music that's easy to listen to, which I suppose is different from easy listening. I play quite a bit of music in this category. I reach for it when I'm looking for a change from music that has a lot going on in it. If that sounds like a slight, I don't mean it to be.

Fordlandia is a piece inspired by an industrial community Henry Ford tried to establish in the Brazilian Rain forest in the 1920s. He did it in the hope it would supply enough rubber to reduce his company's dependence on the products of Malaya. It didn't work. The local pests killed the rubber plants. The workers didn't like Ford's regime. The Brazilian government didn't cooperate. It's been a ghost town since the thirties. 

Once a composer like Johannsson has chosen to tell us that his music's about Fordlandia then something magic happens in our heads; we can instantly see the boats coming upstream with their crew of sweating, fly-swatting petrol heads. We can smell the decay. We can snigger at this triumph of nature over petty, striving, greedy man. Had he chosen to call it something different we would be seeing something different again. At school Mr Grimshaw used to herd us all into the lecture hall, get out the old wood-panelled record player, some classical recordings and then ask us if we could see the sea or trees moving in the wind or war of whatever it was that the piece of music was supposed to be inspired by. We would nod and say we could. I think what we were mainly enjoying was the peace and quiet.

 Johannsson is in the UK in March. Dates here.


  1. Thanks for the recommendation, rather enjoyed it.Work from home and increasingly listen to non vocal light classical/ambient/electronica stuff as the provides a background warmth without distracting voice.

  2. I'm guessing you've read Greg Grandin’s excellent book Fordlandia: 'The Rise And Fall Of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City'? What a fascinating story, brilliantly told.