I first heard Johann’s music when, on a whim, I bought a copy of Fordlandia in the late 2000s. I wasn’t really aware of the emerging Neo-Classical genre but, by the time the record had finished, I certainly was.
It was a hugely beautiful, sprawling work. Sparse and intense; waves of orchestration weaving in and out as subtle electronic and synth motifs bubbled away in the background. It somehow managed to sound intimate and yet full of grandeur at the same time. Something that I’d always connect with his music, no matter what extraordinary new avenue he ventured down.
If he had only written Fordlandia, that would still be a remarkable trophy and affirmation of a great talent. But, no. There are few contemporary composers whose music is as adventurous and honest as Johann’s. His constant reinvention kept everybody else on their toes for over a decade now. From the haunting Prisoners, the touching Theory of Everything, to the pounding Sicario, and the energy of Arrival; the breadth of his work was astonishing, challenging. But, always, at the centre of it all was a warmth, a humanity, a recognition of the nature of what it is to be, to feel.
As a composer, I could never dream of matching his gifts; as a sound designer, I appreciate those gifts, because he shared them through his music, pushing me to try new things. Even this last few weeks I have been asked to create sounds inspired by both Sicario and Arrival. And I’d been thinking of his music in the run-up to my Nordic Noir Week (his unheralded soundtrack to the Icelandic series Trapped is a beautiful thing) as I thought about my favourite TV scores. His influence casts a shadow over the world of contemporary music and will continue to do so, even after his desperately sad passing.
It was always a pleasure to have the opportunity to sit and listen to his work. That there will be no new music from him is devastating. But we must treasure what he did give us, and take it as encouragement to be courageous, honest and… human. He’s left a big hole. It might just take all of us to fill it.