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  • Interview: Jóhann Jóhannsson

    Fri, 27 Sep 2013 17:16:16

    Interview: Jóhann Jóhannsson - By ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino...

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    Prisoners is one of the most talked-about thrillers of 2013. It opened at #1, and it's garnered heaps of praise. One of the movie's most tense elements though is the unique score composed by Jóhann Jóhannsson. It elegantly complements the movie's drama at all the right points, and it's emblematic of the composers immense talent and creativity.

    In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Jóhann Jóhannsson talks Prisoners [iTunes link] and so much more.

    How did you approach the music for Prisoners?

    Denis Villeneuve, the director of the film, wanted the music to be a counterpoint to the darkness of the film. So the music is very much intended to be a lyrical and poetic contrast to the violence on the screen. There is also a lot of music to emphasize the tension, music that is more psychological, dark and drone-like - this reflects the inner conflict and tensions between the characters. But we definitely both wanted to stay away from "thriller" music. I wanted to convey tension and unease without resorting to horror movie or thriller cliches.

    What tends to have a bigger impact on your musical choices the characters/subjects of the film or the narrative itself?

    I think the images are always the biggest influence and the mood and atmosphere of the film. The narrative contributes enormously to this but the actors' performances are also very important. I was very inspired by Hugh Jackman's performance in this film, the intensity and nuance that he brings to the character.

    What attracted you to the film?

    I think it was the combination of the script, which is a real page-turner and very solid on its own, with the thought of what Denis would do with it. I loved Denis' previous films, especially Incendies, which I thought was amazing. So the thought of him tackling a project like this was very exciting to me.

    Was there a character that especially resonated with you?

    Hugh's character, definitely…The moral ambiguity that he explores in this role is fascinating. I don't know if Melissa Leo's character resonated with me, but I love her as an actress and she is very good in this film. Paul Dano and I worked with before in the film For Ellen, and he is very strong here as well.

    How do you go about constructing your live shows?

    It depends on the project. My shows in the US in September were with a string quartet. Some of my material works very easily with this kind of set-up, but other material I have to re-arrange and adapt for concert performance. I like this process, it's a way of re-interpreting the work and adapting it for a new medium. For "The Miners Hymns", which is a piece for an 18 piece brass band and strings, it's different as this piece was written to be performed live, so it translates more easily to the concert stage. We're touring that piece in the US in February.

    What are you listening to now?

    When I'm working I don't tend to listen to other people's music. So I've been listening to my own stuff mostly for the last few months. To prepare for writing Prisoners, I listened to a lot of church music, Protestant hymns from the 19th century, a lot of Bach and Handel, Gesualdo and Buxtehude. I also listened to a lot of minimal drone music, Svarte Greiner, for example, who played for me on the score. Sunn O))) are always an inspiration as are Lichens, Swans, Alvin Lucier, Nico and many more.

    What's next for you?

    I'm working on some commissions for chamber orchestra and another one for choir. I've also got a Danish feature I'll be scoring later this year. There are a lot of other exciting projects on the horizon that I can't talk about yet!

    Rick Florino

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    Tags: Jóhann Jóhannsson, Paul Dano, Svarte Greiner, Denis Villeneuve, Hugh Jackman, Melissa Leo, For Ellen

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