I love Johann Johannsson. The 40 year old Icelandic, yes that’s right Icelandic (every talented musician comes from that tiny country it seems), composer is just something special in the world of modern classical music. I first stumbled upon his work with his quite fascinating ‘ibm 1401, a user’s manual’. His father was a maintenance engineer working with these computers, one of the first to be shipped to Iceland, and developed a way to make the computers create music, something the computer was not designed to do. The classical album that Johannsson created, based on this interaction between man and machine, is great.
This record is completely different in the sense that the bleeps, clicks and technological noises created by the computer are nowhere to be heard. Instead, we have a classical album filled with some gorgeous pieces. At one point my wife commented that it sounds like the music on Assassin’s Creed when you’re sneaking around Jerusalem getting ready to kill another soldier or climb another tower. I can hear that for sure as there are moments of real darkness on this record. However, after every moment of darkness comes a moment of beauty so pure you can almost feel the darkness clear. The shadows removed by the morning sun.
‘Theme’ is the absolutely perfect start to this record. Gorgeous and uplifting subtle piano is lifted beautifully with lush strings. As you would expect the album is filled with gorgeous piano and string accompaniments. However, there is wonderful use of choirs as well. Choirs are not something I would usually have a strong bond with in music if I’m perfectly honest, but the subtle use on this record is just sublime and adds wonderfully to the ambiance and atmosphere as it floats above the strings adding beauty and aggression, where appropriate.
It’s interesting how modern classical composers differ so subtley from one another. The emphasis on this record is without doubt the strings. The other instruments flutter in and out and add wonderfully to the arrangements, but it’s the strings that are the stars on this record for sure. At times lush, at times dark and brooding. Always wonderful. This has been the perfect Sunday listening material. Yesterday was a long, long day. So to be able to lie on the bed now and just immerse myself in such beauty is the perfect end to the weekend. Buy this record. You can check out Johann Johannsson here. He is due to tour the UK in 2010 so keep an eye out for shows. Until then. Enjoy.
It was interesting the other day over on Song by Toad to read people discussing the new Eluvium record, which I, like others on that site, am really looking forward to getting my hands on. Modern classical music has become a major part of my world in the last 3 or 4 years. It’s funny, when you start up the piano you are forced into the world of classical music, whether you like it or not. Most piano teachers will make you play classical pieces. Most exams are based on classical compositions. One way or another you have to learn to play classical. It’s understandable really given the technical skills that such pieces of music teach you. However, it was something I grew tired of. I got bored of playing this music that I didn’t listen to in my spare time. I wanted to play things that I loved, not things that the person teaching me loved. Obviously, they were not teaching me these pieces for this reason, they were teaching me the skills involved in playing such pieces, but I didn’t see this, nor want to see this, at the time. So I rebelled, and I gave up. By 16 I’d given up piano lessons and the piano remained untouched for some time as I focused on learning the bass guitar. It was only later, when I started to want to write songs that I ventured back to the piano. We’re talking years. Maybe 3 or 4 that my mum and dad’s piano was a stranger to me. I didn’t want to know it. Then things changed. My musical tastes changed and I started to add piano parts to early Kays tunes. I started to try and write songs too. Slowly I stopped playing bass and focused solely on piano and here we are today.
Another massive changing point in the world of the Kays though would, without doubt, be when I let classical music back into my life. I started listening to Ludovico Einaudi having heard ‘Le Onde’ on Classic FM. I was hooked. Simple, minimalist piano and strings. It was beautiful. Slowly but surely I started to discover other musicians like this. Olafur Arnalds, as people who read this site will know, is one of my favourites. But then you have Johann Johannsson, Max Richter, Eluvium and more. And now, having spent the day with Fraser recording the solo EP yesterday, I have much, much more. So this week is going to be all about immersing myself in a whole batch of artists I’ve never heard before and reporting back to you about my finds. It’s very exciting. And it’s going to put me in the right mind set for starting work on new Kays tunes. The debut record is finished, so it’s time to get my head back into the process of building a collection of songs for the future. Nothing prepares me for this better than listening to classical music. It’s funny how I’ve come full circle but I find myself listening to this stuff more and more. It just inspires me more than anything else. So yes, prepare yourself for a week of bleak, minimalist and classical tunes here at The Steinberg Principle.