In Johann’s Endless Pause

endlessIt seems I am endlessly reminded of the loss of the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, whose sudden passing last year still feels like some kind of shock. I suppose it’s because I keep on returning to his music, and the kind of melancholy that infused so much of it. For the past few days I’ve been listening to In the Endless Pause There Came The Sound of Bees, one of his early albums and the soundtrack to a little-known animated short film titled Varmints. Its a short album – the original animation is less than thirty minutes long- but it is full of al kinds of beauty and tenderness, a really deceptively complicated soundscape with fragile melodies and textures. I discovered the album back when I first became besotted with Jóhann’s music through his Fordlandia album and became obsessed with discovering his past albums, scouring the internet for copies where I could. In the Endless Pause is a really fine soundtrack, so much so I would not be at all surprised to find some fans of his music consider it their favourite. It is so subtle and otherworldly, using electronics, organ and choir and solo voice to weave some particular magic that only Jóhann could really manage, somehow- and a sober reminder indeed of what we fans lost. Everytime I listen to some of his music I wonder at his talent at what what may have lay ahead of him, what fine music we will never hear, what films may have benefitted from his touch. I listen to his music now and feel like I and his music are held in some endless pause- as if some divine ‘pause’ button was pressed too soon, and I’m waiting for someone to press the ‘play’ button, so somehow he’ll be back, and there will be more of his beautiful music in the world.

To give readers unfamiliar with either Jóhann or this particular album an idea of what this music is like, here’s a link to the film/album’s End Theme.

Its a fine gem of an album indeed and perhaps surprisingly upbeat. Jóhann’s music has a reputation for being moody and sombre, and much of it is, but I don’t think that necessarily means its dark or depressing- I suppose it’s the Icelandic in his soul. I think ‘fragility’ is a word I’d prefer to use, or ‘intimate’.

The album was rare when I bought it, years ago, but can be found now on a Deutsche Grammophon anthology, Retrospective 1, which contains seven of his early recordings (a second Retrospective collection is due next year, likely collecting his later and more commonly found works). The Varmints film itself came be found on Youtube too and is well worth a watch, and I believe can be purchased on itunes.

4 thoughts on “In Johann’s Endless Pause

    1. I’ve heard the score, very dark and doom-laden and sadly repetitive, really. Its a tough listen, especially in 2020 (its almost like a soundtrack to this bloody horrible year so I’ve actually consciously avoided listening to it) I haven’t gotten the film yet, but I’ll probably get around to it eventually. Its certainly intriguing stuff. The idea of messages from the future isn’t particularly new (well hello there, Mr Nolan’s Tenet) but I do love the idea of warnings from the end of the human race, it feels very Golden Age, Babylon 5 kind of stuff.

      I really do wonder where Johann’s career might have gone had he lived longer. And of course I’ll be endlessly curious about whatever he recorded of his rejected BR2049 score. One has to hope something of that may come to light someday.

      1. Matthew McKinnon

        I picked it up over Christmas, as the film looked really interesting. I’m not 100% a fan of JJ, but I listened to this for the first time all the way through on a long walk yesterday (I try to get an hour a day in if I can) and it was perfect for the winter light. I really enjoyed it.

      2. I can definitely see how that music would fit a winter walk like that; I guess that’s why his music worked so well in films, how well it intensified mood. It reminds me of many years ago struggling through the snow on my walk home from college listening to a cassette of Morricone’s The Thing soundtrack on my Walkman (those were the days). Jesus Christ I didn’t want to get home. The crunching snow, the cold, my breath misting in the air and Humanity etc in my ears, I could have stayed there forever. I suppose in a way I did, as I never forgot that experience. Now, what I had for dinner last Tuesday is anyone’s guess, but I can remember that night some 35-odd years ago like it was yesterday.

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