Johann Johannsson - Virthulegu forsetar

Released: February 2011
Double Vinyl

Tracklist:

1. Part 1 (14:51)
2. Part 2 (14:14)
3. Part 3 (14:45)
4. Part 4 (21:45)

Bass, Electronics - Skúli Sverrisson
Conductor - Guðni Franzson
Glockenspiel, Bells, Electronics - Mathias M.D. Hemstock
Horns - Anna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, Einar St. Jónsson, Emil Friðfinnsson, Stefán Jón Bernharðsson, Þorkell Jóelsson
Organ - Guðmundur Sigurðsson, Hörður Bragason
Performer - The Caput Ensemble
Photography - J. Wozencroft
Recorded By, Mastered by Sveinn Kjartansson*
Trumpet - Eiríkur Örn Pálsson , Ásgeir Steingrímsson*
Tuba - Sigurður Már Valsson

This is his second album for Touch, after the highly acclaimed 'Englabörn' [Touch # TO:52], about which The Wire said: "...expressive leitmotifs that unveil a profound sadness without ever wallowing in pathos" and Boomkat called it "a work of rare beauty and ... a rare jewel". 'Virthulegu forsetar' contains one hour-long piece for 11 brass players, percussion, electronics, organs and piano. It was in 2004 presented as an ordinary stereo CD and as a DVD-Audio with a high resolution 5.1 surround mix. The piece had its live debut in Hallgrimskirkja, a large church in Reykjavik and the city's towering edifice, and was named "the most memorable musical event of 2003" in Iceland's leading newspaper. The piece has Englabörn's quiet, elegiac beauty, but abandons the brevity of the first album's exquisite miniatures in favor of an extended form that reveals a long, slow process. A simple theme played by the brass section is repeated throughout the entire piece using different voicings and instrumentation. As the piece goes on, the tempo slows down, until it is extremely slow. Around the middle of the piece, the tempo starts to speed up again, until it reaches the original tempo. Space and the sense of place were very important in the performance and recording of the piece. Players were positioned both in front and at the back of the church and two organs were used, again, one in front and one at the back. This created a sense of immersion and a sound that is powerful without ever being 'loud'.

Johann writes: "During the first live performance of the piece, the church ceiling was filled with blue helium balloons which were timed to fall extremely slowly to the ground during the performance and scatter among the audience. To our pleasant surprise, the balloons reacted with the sound, falling with greater frequency as the volume increased. During the performance the light slowly changed through the church windows as the sun went down. The concert was fairly late, ending at around midnight and it being a bright, cloudless spring evening, the combination of all these physical and natural processes made for quite a memorable moment". "I had a number of things going through my mind during the writing of the piece, some of them being an obsession with entropy, Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49", postal horns, cybernetics, small birds, heat, space, energy, "singularities", Nietzsche's Eternal recurrence, Moebius strips. I'm absolutely not interested in imposing any one 'meaning' on the piece, but all these things were flying around somewhere in my head. A casual listener might categorize the piece as ambient or meditative, but I think this is really wrong - for me it's much more about chaos and tension rather than harmony. I go through many different emotions listening to the piece, veering from intense joy to acute sadness. The central point is perhaps how a very simple thing can change by going through a very simple process - something about change and transformation and the inevitability of chaos."

"Virthulegu forsetar" is performed by the Caput Ensemble, conducted by Gudni Franzson, with Skuli Sverrison on bass and electronics, Matthias M.D. Hemstock on bells, glockenspiel and electronics, Hordur Bragason and Gudmundur Sigurdsson on organs and Johann Johannsson on piano and electronics.

Jóhann Jóhannsson is an Icelandic musician, composer, producer and an active member of the country’s artistic community (as co-founder of the Kitchen Motors label / think tank / art collective, founder member of Apparat Organ Quartet and also as a serial collaborator). His lushly sophisticated and hauntingly melodic music has been quietly bewitching listeners for some time - with several full-lengths released on Touch and 4AD labels, as well as numerous scores for for film and theatre.

Aquarius Records (USA) writes:

A reissue of the 2004 album Virdulegu Forsetar from Iceland's post-classical composer Johann Johannsson. Since the release of this album, Johannsson has jumped from Touch to 4AD, with international acclaim following right along. Virdulegu Forsetar is an hour long piece written for 11 brass players (trumpets, horns, tuba), percussion (Glockenspiel and bells), electronics, organs and piano. Virdulegu is all brooding, slow building, minor key, cinematic epic. Warm and lush, rich with harmonic overtones, and melodically very grandiose. The sounds here are very visual and definitely bring to mind vast expanses of land or space, whether it's the sun slowly rising over the desert, the moon peeking from behind a planet, a slowly spiralling galaxy, and even the Olympics. Huh? Yep, the Olympics. The melodies and instrumentation are quite similar to the fanfares used during the opening ceremonies, or over montages of past Olympiads, lovely nonetheless. And of course much darker and dronier than any of the music actually used for the Olympics. Each epic fanfare / flourish dissipates into a rumbling subterranean drone, where it hovers and slowly shifts until another fanfare surfaces in it's place, shines briefly, only to quickly sink back into the inky darkness.

Other Reviews:

Cycle Defrost (USA):

Continually casting himself out into the world, be it as founder of a furtive experimental label in Kitchen Motors, partaker in the portentous experimental rock of Apparat Organ Quartet, or composer of theater as well as film productions, the works of Johann Johannsson are effulgent disclosures of distinct experience. His Virthulegu Forestar, which drifts away from the brief, melodic vignettes of Englaborn, is indeed ‘an experience’ in that it is an hour long self-sustaining whole, marked out from what went before and what came after. It has its own plot, its own inception, its own pervading quality and rhythmic movement carrying it unto its end.

Crafted for eleven brass players, percussion, electronics, organs and piano, a leitmotif branching out from the brass section acts a regrouping base around which the instruments are succinctly wound. With each successive appearance, the leitmotif takes on new voicing, tempo and texture; at birth, the piece announces itself with a mournful majesty. Only having just shown itself, the orchestra shrinks back into a reflective drone, punctuated by electronic rumbles and chirps. And although the inclination may well be interpret such moments as minimal places of rest, they are actually impregnated with a foreboding disquiet that defines the works quality of movement. These moments accentuate the ominous eruptions that are eventually conceived; they sum up what has been undergone and prevent its dissipation and idle evaporation by incorporating the themes into the unity of its project.

Originally performed in Hallgrimskirkja, a large church in Reykjavik, the piece was honored as “the most memorable musical event of 2003” in Iceland’s foremost newspaper. During the performance players were positioned in precise locations so as to craft a sense of immersion and hues that were potent without being oppressive. In fine manner, this organization was recaptured in this recording, which seems a celebration of the ways people engage with an ongoing process of becoming that endows significance to their experience. [Max Schaefer]

Beta Music (Singapore):

Virðulegu forsetar was first performed in 2003 at Hallgrimskirkja, a large cathedral in Reykjavik, Iceland. Its composer, Jóhann Jóhannsson, decided to later record the piece in the same space, bringing it subsequently into the studio to edit and tuck and weave. The end-result is a bewitching work whose subtle textures and mesmeric motifs are best appreciated in its entirety. This isn't necessarily easy to do because Virðulegu forsetar is a long piece in four parts. For one hour, it patiently repeats a single phrase on trumpets, tubas and French horns, an attractive counterpoint of notes that's hopeful and calming. Early on, this theme has a brassy shrillness, but its tone changes at later passages, becoming faint and hesitant, and coming back at the end - after a stretch of silence almost two minutes - to carry the work towards closure. Jóhannsson is a reputed master of drones in many quarters, but his idiom has never sounded so pretty- shifting in pitch, wandering through tempo changes, and dancing with subsonic electronics. Released last year, this fantastic record - simple and carefully nuanced - received a flurry of critical praise. [Lee Chung Horn]

Farfield Records (UK):

Jóhann Jóhannsson is one of the most active participants in the new Icelandic music scene. He has one of the founders of Kitchen Motors, the art organization/think-tank/record label which specializes in instigating collaborations, promoting concerts and exhibitions, performances, chamber operas, producing films, books and radio shows based on the ideals of experimentation, collaboration and the search for new art forms. Jóhann has produced and written music with artists as diverse as Marc Almond ("Stranger Things" album), Barry Adamson and Pan Sonic, The Hafler Trio, Magga Stina and many others. He has also written music for the theatre, documentaries and soundtrack music for 3 feature films.

This is his second album for Touch, after the highly acclaimed 'Englabörn' [Touch # TO:52], about which The Wire said: "...expressive leitmotifs that unveil a profound sadness without ever wallowing in pathos" and Boomkat called it "a work of rare beauty and ... a rare jewel". 'Virthulegu forsetar' contains one hour-long piece for 11 brass players, percussion, electronics, organs and piano. It's presented as an ordinary stereo CD and as a DVD-Audio with a high resolution 5.1 surround mix. The piece had its live debut in Hallgrimskirkja, a large church in Reykjavik and the city's towering edifice, and was named "the most memorable musical event of 2003" in Iceland's leading newspaper. The piece has Englabörn's quiet, elegiac beauty, but abandons the brevity of the first album's exquisite miniatures in favor of an extended form that reveals a long, slow process. A simple theme played by the brass section is repeated throughout the entire piece using different voicings and instrumentation. As the piece goes on, the tempo slows down, until it is extremely slow. Around the middle of the piece, the tempo starts to speed up again, until it reaches the original tempo. Space and the sense of place were very important in the performance and recording of the piece. Players were positioned both in front and at the back of the church and two organs were used, again, one in front and one at the back. This created a sense of immersion and a sound that is powerful without ever being 'loud'. As the piece is written for a specific location, it made sense to record it live in this same space and attempt to 're-create' it for the listener with 5.1 surround technology. This was like creating an audio 'mold' or 'cast' of the inner sonic architecture of the building. In this way, the music engages in a dialogue with the space it's performed in and the recording process becomes as much a documentation of a place as a documentation of music.

Johann writes: "During the first live performance of the piece, the church ceiling was filled with blue helium balloons which were timed to fall extremely slowly to the ground during the performance and scatter among the audience. To our pleasant surprise, the balloons reacted with the sound, falling with greater frequency as the volume increased. During the performance the light slowly changed through the church windows as the sun went down. The concert was fairly late, ending at around midnight and it being a bright, cloudless spring evening, the combination of all these physical and natural processes made for quite a memorable moment". "I had a number of things going through my mind during the writing of the piece, some of them being an obsession with entropy, Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49", postal horns, cybernetics, small birds, heat, space, energy, "singularities", Nietzsche's Eternal recurrence, Moebius strips. I'm absolutely not interested in imposing any one 'meaning' on the piece, but all these things were flying around somewhere in my head. A casual listener might categorize the piece as ambient or meditative, but I think this is really wrong - for me it's much more about chaos and tension rather than harmony. I go through many different emotions listening to the piece, veering from intense joy to acute sadness. The central point is perhaps how a very simple thing can change by going through a very simple process - something about change and transformation and the inevitability of chaos."

"Virthulegu forsetar" is performed by the Caput Ensemble, conducted by Gudni Franzson, with Skuli Sverrison on bass and electronics, Matthias M.D. Hemstock on bells, glockenspiel and electronics, Hordur Bragason and Gudmundur Sigurdsson on organs and Johann Johannsson on piano and electronics.

hyperreal.org (USA):

Sometimes, taking a chance on someone you've never heard of based on a few lines about a new release can yield a truly exciting find. This is one of those times.

"Virthulegu forsetar" is a composition of nearly an hour, broken into four movements. The piece starts off with a simple fanfare-like melody played by a brass ensemble. Over the course of the piece, as the melody is repeated, the instrumentation changes slightly and the tempo decreases, only to increase again and return to its original form by the end. Don't misunderstand what I mean by repetition of a melodic figure - this isn't the rapid-fire repetition of Glass or Reich, but a long, slow stately restatement of the original theme. Several points are marked with long stretches of silence, distant, almost inaudible, sounds, or long sustained notes. Patient listening is rewarded (but fans of ambient are good at that, right?)

For me, this work can evoke a wide range of feelings - from hope to sadness, from joy to longing - sometimes all at once. The mood changes as the music progresses - the brightness of the beginning has become much more melancholy by the end. My reaction to this piece is similar to my reaction when listening to William Basinski's "The Disintegration Loops". If you like that, you'll definitely like this.

This is a great, great disc. Highly, highly recommended.

BTW - The package contains both an audio CD as well as an audio DVD with two 5.1 mixes of the piece. I don't have the equipment to play these, unfortunately.

flavorpill (USA):

Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson's Virthulegu Forsetar is a creeper. It comes on slowly and softly, caressing with spidery French horn fingers, lapping sonic shores with deep, textured electronic drones, and shifting tone with such subtlety that the changes are barely evident at first. Over the course of the hour-long, four-part composition, however, Jóhannsson stacks one languorously triumphant theme on top of another, alternately building to trumpet-rich climaxes and pulling the sonic curtains back to reveal the delicious, ubiquitous buzzing undercurrent. In fact, he accumulates momentum with such glacial patience that when Virthulegu finally sounds its last fanfare, the listener is left exhausted, calmed, and exhilarated all at once; it makes you wonder how you ever could have dismissed minimalism as "cold" when there are such joyful slow-burns as this. [TG]

Uncut (UK):

Electronics and brass combine for a solemn and beautiful series of four minimalist elegies by an icelandic composer with Arvo Part leanings. Essential for all fans of stately ambience, this includes a bonus DVD audio 5.1 surround sound mix. [Eden Parke]

The Irish Times (Ireland):

In Johann Johannsson's second album, Virthulegu forsetar - an hour-long piece for brass, percussion, electronica, organ and piano - time slows down, almost stops and then speeds up again. Inspired by such numinous sources as Thomas Pynchon's novella The Crying Of Lot 49, cybernetics, thermodynamics and Nietzche's "eternal recurrence", Iceland's foremost genre-crossing multi-instrumentalist effortlessly transforms very heady cosmological theories into exquisitely beautiful musical ideas. Over four untitled movements, Johannsson varies and develops his central musical theme, first heard on brass, in different electronic and acoustic instrumentation (organ and glockenspiel), its tempo progressively decelerating and accelerating with a solemn ineluctability. Virthulegu forsetar's reflexive musical and temporal entropy, both a degenerative and regenerative impulse, achieves an astonishing visceral force and urgency: Johannsson's genius is to infuse his very postmodern music with a rare expressive intensity. Sublime. [Jocelyn Clarke]

disquiet.com (USA):

Easily one of the most compelling composers working today, ushering a dense hush from dozens of instrumental players working in unison. A must for those who appreciate the gravitas of Arvo Part and Gavin Bryars.

Dusted (USA):

For his second album, this Icelander and founding member of the Kitchen Motors collective switches from string to brass, working one melodic theme over the course of an hour, showing that the spaces in between the reservedly triumphant and slowly shifting melody are every bit as important and profoundly moving.

Almost Cool (USA):

A slowly-evolving piece of modern classical from another young artist doing some amazing things with the blending of classical and electronic music. Imagine a brass fanfare sunk to the bottom of the ocean and you're getting somewhere close. A major step-up from his debut release, this one is moving.

and from the same magazine:

Rating: 8.25

It was just over a year ago (quite some time after the album had been release, mind you) that I discovered the beauty that was Jóhann Jóhannsson's first album Englaborn. The release was basically comprised of a series of shorter classically- based tracks that unfolded over short periods of time and bloomed like small flowers. It was a gem of a release and something that I wish I'd tracked down much sooner. Although it made its live debut last year in Iceland, Virðulegu Forsetar is his follow-up release and it's much larger in scope than his previous release both in terms of length of tracks and overall concept.

Instead of tracks that run five minutes or under, this newest release is comprised of four movements, the first three-quarters of which clock in at 14 minutes and the last of which runs well over 20. Composed for an eleven-member brass section, percussion, organs, piano, and electronics, the piece is a sprawling piece with a repeating motif that is both elegaic and slightly melancholy (or perhaps that's just my interpretation of it). Opening with a three-note melody that sounds for a slight moment the beginning of the 2001: A Space Oddesey theme, the track moves in the opposite direction towards something much more subtle.

The release is actually quite repetitive, but like many good classical pieces, it's the small changes that make it so lovely. As the repeating motif is played, the piece very gradually slows down towards the middle section, until it's much slower than at the beginning. Listening to the release, this change is barely felt, as the entire thing becomes so immersive that it actually feels like your body systems have slowed slightly and it's just keeping time. In-between the repeated motif are rumbles of dense low-end offset with sparkling chimes and piano, and the dynamics between the two registers blur the progress of the track even more.

As the album moves past the halfway point, it again slowly increases in pace, and once again it's something that's barely perceptible. As the sounds of lighter percussive elements and almost hopeful piano notes are struck, the track moves from a more downcast feel to one of hope. It's as if the span of 12 hours (from light to dark to light) are compressed into this one 65-minute piece and the final moments are the cracking of the dawn and the look forward to something possibly/hopefully/wishfully better. Maybe I'm just looking for meaning in the music given the events that have taken place in the past months, but I'll take it wherever I can find it. Along with Max Richter's The Blue Notebooks, this is another stunning modern classical release of 2004.

Pitchfork Media (USA):

Rating: 8.8

Listening to music by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson reminds me of optical illusions, those little diagrams where you can't believe this line is really the same length as that line, or you're amazed that the swirling circle isn't really rotating. Our brains are complex computers but it doesn't take much to short the circuits. We're constantly constructing patterns based on context.

Virthulegu forsetar is a long piece in four parts that depends heavily on juxtaposition. Over the course of an hour it continues to repeat a single phrase on trumpets, french horns, and tubas. Though simple, it's a bold little cluster of notes with an inherent grandeur, and the brassiest voicing early in the piece suggests a fanfare before a great announcement. But Jóhannsson invests the refrain with a host of different meanings by slowing it down, shifting the pitch, putting it beside all sorts of interesting drones, and making it disappear completely for minutes on end. Over its length the piece undergoes remarkable shifts in mood and feel, which is even more notable considering the basic instrumentation (in addition to the brass, it's scored for organs, piano, bass, glockenspiel, and subtle electronics) is the same throughout.

So Virthulegu forsetar is about minimalism and repetition, obviously, but it's also one of the most patient records I've heard. Where last year's equally great Englabörn album consisted of chamber pieces at pop-song length, Virthulegu forsetar should be taken in all at once and in a proper way. Listen to it loud and the organ/electronic rumble connecting the melodic bits comes alive, with odd bits of noise perfectly mucking up the pristinely deep bass pedals. The held tones become vitally important as the piece progresses and the primary motif slows to a crawl; with more space between the notes the connecting drone that stretches to infinity becomes the focus. The horns are always around the corner. At times they're wounded and barely able to sound, but they're always there. Toward the end there's a stretch of silence almost two minutes long before one last gasp of the opening theme carries the piece out on an exhausted note.

This gorgeous package contains a DVD audio disc with a 5.1 surround sound mix that attempts to replicate the feel of the original performance (I don't have the technology to hear it, unfortunately). Virthulegu forsetar was first performed in 2003 at Hallgrimskirkja, a large cathedral in Reykjavik, and the album was recorded in the same space. During that first performance, players were positioned on all sides of the audience; it was spring in Iceland which meant a show starting around 11:00 p.m. would finish as the sun was setting. As a visual accompaniment, Jóhannsson filled the cathedral with helium balloons that were slightly underinflated, so that over the course of the piece they fell extremely slowly into the crowd.

Think for a moment what a fantastically beautiful image this is. And yet, there's nothing to it. An epic space, sure, but beyond that we're talking balloons, horns, and a keyboard. Careful gestures, simple tools, and a good mind are all Jóhannsson needs. This is the way to live.

Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson returns in the wake of last year's beautiful Englabörn, attempting something altogether different, and succeeding proudly. Where Englabörn showcased pop-song length chamber pieces bowed across liquid string sections, Virðulegu forsetar is one hour-long piece in four parts for trumpets, french horns, and tubas. Though it repeats only one series of notes, the piece - like William Basinski's Disintegration Loops - continually undergoes remarkable shifts in mood and feel, as Jóhannsson invests the refrain with a host of different meanings by slowing it down, shifting the pitch, setting it next to unusual drones, and making it disappear completely for minutes on end. [Mark Richardson]

and

Like a frozen bugle's subtly looped funeral call, Jóhann Jóhannsson's Virthulegu forsetar unfurls with mesmerizing, oscillating patience over one sublime hour. Recorded in a large church in Reykjavik, Iceland, the epic snow glide harnesses airy voices of 11 upfront brass players plus percussion, electronics, glockenspiel, bells, organ, and piano to birth a four-part tone poem and more goose-bumps than the most glacial Sigur Rós hailstorm. (In addition to the stereo CD, a hybrid DVD offers an engulfing high-resolution 96khz, 24 bit 5.1 surround mix, and a 96khz 24bit stereo mix.) While reactions are bound to be melodramatic (as they should be), in Jóhannsson notes to the piece he lists a number of sturdier things he kept in mind as he composed, including entropy, Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, small birds, heat, space, energy, Nietszche's eternal recurrence, and Moebius strips. By bolstering his fragile sounds with these solid references Jóhannsson avoids the bathetic, adding intellectual complexity to an emotional, perfectly whispered symphony. [Brandon Stosuy]

De:Bug (Germany): RECORD OF THE MONTH

Gaffa (Denmark):

Jóhann Jóhannsson imponerede i 2002 med det glimrende soundtrack-album Englabörn, som bød på 16 smukke, højtidelige numre, der blandede klassisk musik og afdæmpet elektronik. Her på opfølgeren fortsætter islændingen i samme spor, men leverer ét timelangt værk. Det er en 11-mand stor blæsersektion, der er i front her på Virthulegu forsetar, hvilket gør musikken yderst atmosfærisk. De spiller variationer af et gennemgående tema på alle stykkets fire dele, men der er ligeledes perioder, hvor værkets mørke understrømme, der er skabt med to orgeler, bas og sagte elektroniske teksturer, får lov til at præge lydbilledet. Desuden spilles der på klokkespil, klokker og piano, hvilket giver værket flotte detaljer. Musikken er yderst stemningsmættet, praktisk taget uden egentlige rytmer, men med fremdrift i kraft af gradvise tempo- og humørskift, hvoraf sidstnævnte veksler mellem det sørgelige og det triumferende. Virthulegu forsetar er en betagende CD, der endda kommer med en DVD-Audio-disk indeholdende alternative surround mix af værket.
[Jakob Rosenbak]

textura (Canada):

Gorgeous swells of horns proclaim an opening theme, followed by faint wavering chords over an organ pedal-point drone. Sound familiar? While it might be impossible to hear Virðulegu forsetar at first without echoes of Also sprach Zarathustra intruding, Strauss's work, with its solemn yet dramatic declamatory fanfares, is of an entirely different character. Performed by the Caput ensemble (four trumpets, four horns, tuba, two organs, bass, glockenspiels, bells, and the composer's piano and electronics), Jóhannsson's hour-long piece, by contrast, shares the elegiac beauty of its Touch precursor Englabörn while eschewing the brevity of its miniatures for a glacial pace; the work unfurls so slowly one might miss the fact that the tempo gradually slows down before picking up again in the middle. The mood is funereal yet not depressing, the atmosphere calm. In short, if Strauss's work celebrates the Nietzschean Superman, Jóhannsson's invokes the Theme of Eternal Recurrence.

Much like Gavin Bryars' The Sinking of the Titanic (minus its aquatic sonic dimension), Virthulegu forsetar achieves pathos and stateliness without lapsing into maudlin sentimentality. Rather than developing as one might expect, Jóhannsson's opening section repeats throughout with subtle variations in instrumentation. Not only does it cycle in a manner that recalls Titanic, but like it too additional sounds (sparse glockenspiel accents and electronic effects) are integrated subtly. In Part Two, pianissimo horns are joined by soft bell strikes while later creaks and groans suggest early morning sounds one might hear at a harbour. It's 'ikonic,' also, in a way that recalls John Tavener's similarly 'static' works; you'll hear little by way of conventional narrative development or rising- falling arcs (even if the addition of a piano chord, for instance, creates contrast from one section to another).

That the piece was debuted in Hallgrimskirkja, a large church in Reykjavik, is significant given the music's 'architectural' quality. For its live performance and recording, players and organs were placed at the front and back of the church to create an immersive, spatial sound. While Jóhannsson considers it wrong to judge the piece meditative and ambient (since he contends it's more about chaos and tension), its open-endedness accommodates both impressions even if its peaceful qualities seem more pronounced. Note that the package includes two discs, one a conventional CD and the other a hybrid DVD-Audio disc featuring an enhanced suround mix. The DVD portion of the latter, however, essentially comprises a still photograph of a tiny bird that gradually fades from view against a static background—a subtle visual gesture whose almost imperceptible transitions mirror the work itself. [Ron Schepper]

Aquarius (USA):

Johan Johannsson is fast becoming one of the bright lights in the already talent rich Icelandic underground music scene. Having helped found the Kitchen Motors arts organization in Reykjavik, Johannsson has also performed with the Apparat Organ Ensemble as well as members of Sigur Ros, Mum, Stilluppsteypa and more. We raved about Johannsson's debut album Englaborn. But while this new release is sonically quite different, it retains many of the elements that we found so appealing on Englaborn. Virthulegu Forsetar is an hour long piece written for 11 brass players (trumpets, horns, tuba), percussion (Glockenspiel an bells), electronics, organs and piano.

Virthulegu is not as much of an all drone record as his debut, but most definitely still contains many drone-y parts and drone-like elements. A brooding, slow building, minor key, cinematic epic. Warm and lush, rich with harmonic overtones, and melodically very grandiose. The sounds here are very visual and definitely bring to mind vast expanses of land or space, whether it's the sun slowly rising over the desert, the moon peeeking from behind a planet, a slowly spiralling galaxy, and even the Olympics. Huh? Yep, the Olympics. The melodies and instrumentation are quite similar to the fanfares used during the opening ceremonies, or over montages of past Olympiads. It's a little distracting, but quite lovely nonetheless. And of course much darker and dronier than any of the music actually used for the Olympics. Each epic fanfare / flourish dissipates into a rumbling subterranean drone, where it hovers and slowly shifts until another fanfare surfaces in it's place, shines briefly, only to quickly sink back into the inky darkness. This would be the perfect music for the Drone Olympics that we plan on holding in 2006!

Dusted (USA):

Compared to last year's exceptional Englabörn, it would be accurate to think that Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Virthulegu forsetar moves at a glacial pace. All music/ Icelandic metaphors aside, the composer's second solo effort does initially seem a little too preoccupied with differentiating itself from his first. While Englabörn was filled with three- to five-minute haunting compositions, Virthulegu forsetar is a little more laborious – four untitled tracks, all fairly similar on first listen, with more drone-like silence than violins or electronic percussion. It's a tough piece to swallow whole, but well worth it.

The centerpiece of the album is a reoccurring three-note theme. Both deceptively simple and familiar, it’s almost as if it had been snatched from a triumphant moment in a Hollywood war film. Over the 50-plus minutes of the album, this not-quite leitmotif appears in a constant ebb and flow, retreating for extended periods only to return with a different purpose. For instance, the album's opening moments introduces the three notes immediately, giving the listener access to the album's peak without any of the exertion. The theme returns throughout the piece, but never with the same grandeur. At times the horns linger on the second note, neglecting the third, other times it seems to rush through the theme with little or no effort. It returns throughout the piece in various incantations, much like a jazz musician might repeat and alter a theme.

The original performance of Virthulegu forsetar was voted the No. 1 musical experience of the year by Iceland's leading paper. One can imagine why: performed on a late summer’s eve, the 12 musicians inhabited a church, positioning themselves to the front, back and the side of the audience. As the sun set through the windows, the composition’s evolving theme revealed itself and as the mini-orchestra sauntered its way to the finale, balloons fell from the ceiling.

While one could easily dismiss the album with an “I guess you had to be there” mentality, Virthulegu forsetar is a surprisingly dense and intricate listen. The album is packaged with both a traditional CD and a DVD that allows those with proper surround-sound capabilities to experience it as it was performed in that church in Reykjavík. A generous offering by both Jóhannsson and the label Touch, an initial listen to the album’s guttural offerings demonstrates the essential role in listening technology in recreating a specific experience. For an album that spends nearly three-quarters of its time in minimalist drone, computer speakers do not do it justice. And while the album successfully exists on its own, the experience of it inhabiting a room, incorporating its space, its bare sound, is breathtaking.

Melodies, often so quiet listeners might feel compelled to adjust the volume and smush the headphones deeper, unfold throughout the four parts in a variety of moods and styles. Often trumpets or the synthetic rumble hold the notes, obscuring the familiar theme. It's almost as if the piece was divided into four parts arbitrarily; none of the pieces have a discernable beginning or end. Together, though, they create a tangible and enchanting whole. [Addison MacDonald]

musiquemachine.com (net)

The 20th century composer Edgard Varèse stated he liked brass because they are ‘full of sun’. Jóhannsson’s followup to his rather sad solo-debut Englabörn proves that point.

Englabörn was melancholic and sad and revolved around one theme played by a stringquartet augmented by (mostly subtle) electronics. Virthulegu Forsetar is even more minimal themewise: played by a brasssection primarily, with little piano and glockenspiel. There are only very small alterations the melodic motif during the four pieces that comprise Virthulegu Forsetar. The electronics are more droney but again subtle. The mood is more ‘up’, although the pace is slow and stately.

The piece has been performed in a church, with the 'lighting effects' of a sun going down and blue balloons hanging on the ceiling with just enough helium to start falling down during the performance and settle inbetween the audience. I can imagine this was a great experience, which hopefully makes it to these shores some time.

The CD comes with a DVD that features a stereo and a surround 5.1 mix. I can’t play the surround mix, but the stereo version from DVD is, as one would expect given the higher resolution, much more ‘open’. I’m not an audiophile, but it really adds to the feeling of the music. It gives a spatious effect that enhances the experience and it connects really well to visions of Icelandic scenery. Virthulegu Forsetar is one of those records to make time for: sit down and immerse yourself in the soothing sounds of brass and drones. [Martijn Busink]

Independent on Sunday (UK):

An "art" piece for brass ensemble, organs (two), percussion, keyboards and electronics, designed for performance in a church while giant blue orbs descend from the clerestory at a pace commensurate with the tempo and amplitude of the music. Needless to say, the music is very slow, very quiet, very stately, not to say immobile, and at points in it's hour-long duration, quite beautiful. Johannsson is Icelandic and the visions conjured by the piece are deeply Nordic. Imagine Monterverdi as a Viking on slow drugs... there, you have it. [Nick Coleman]

freewilliamsburg.com (USA):

Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson had an intimate, heart-to-heart talk with his country's cold, bleak landscape. He convinced said landscape to come into the studio. He then recorded their conversation and wrote a minimal, yet powerful symphony. This is a beautiful and calming record. The best "background noise record" of the year.

Jazzwise (UK):

This is Icelandic new music star Johann Johannsson's second album for Touch. Featuring the 11 piece brass chorus, the Caput Ensemble, keyboards, percussion and electronics, it's an hour-long work in four sections. If the instrumentation suggests something baroque in nature, then that's close to the truth as there's certainly something choral, courtly and canonical about the piece. But in its replaying of its main leitmotif using different instrumental combinations it also has a certain fugue-like quality. That said, Johannsson certainly doesn't embellish the theme significantly and in that sense the baroque comparison breaks down. Indeed, there's little that passes for thematic development and I suspect the composer is much more in tune with the minimalism of Glass, Reich and, more particularly, Terry Riley. But this is so much more than the sum of its parts and influences. Very special.

lostatsea.net (USA):

Continually casting himself out into the world - be it as founder of furtive experimental label Kitchen Motors, partaker in the portentous experimental rock of Apparat Organ Quartet, or composer of theatrical and film productions - the works of Johann Johannsson are effulgent disclosures of distinct experience. His Virthulegu Forsetar, which drifts away from the brief, melodic vignettes of Englaborn, is indeed an experience, in that it is an hour long self-sustaining whole, marked out from what went before and what came after. It has its own plot, its own inception, its own pervading quality and a rhythmic movement that carries it unto its end.

Crafted for eleven brass players, percussion, electronics, organs and piano, a leitmotif branching out from the brass section acts a regrouping base, around which the instruments are succinctly wound. With each successive appearance, the leitmotif takes on new voicing, tempo and texture: at birth, the piece announces itself with a mournful majesty. Only having just shown itself, the orchestra shrinks back into a reflective drone, punctuated by electronic rumbles and chirps.

Although the inclination may well be to interpret such moments as minimal places of rest, they are actually impregnated with a foreboding disquiet that defines the works quality of movement. These moments accentuate the ominous eruptions that are eventually conceived; they sum up what has been undergone and prevent its dissipation and idle evaporation by incorporating the themes into the unity of its project.

Originally performed in Hallgrimskirkja, a large church in Reykjavik, the piece was honored as "the most memorable musical event of 2003" in Iceland's foremost newspaper. During the performance, players were positioned in precise locations so as to craft a sense of immersion and hues that were potent without being oppressive. This organization was captured in a fine manner on this recording; it arrives as a celebration of the ongoing process of becoming that endows significance to each person's experience.



Further information/reviews
For more information, please visit this product's webpage.



« back


Buy this item

£13.14

Packshot

Johann Johannsson - Virthulegu forsetar





Customers also purchased

Lem Tuggle - Breakout


Featured editions

Christian Fennesz - AUN