Sunday, February 11, 2018

is persistence everything? until it isn't.

I am in deep, deep shock that I am writing this; I really thought that Jóhann Jóhannsson would bury me. it feels completely wrong that these words are now being typed by me, having learned that he died a day or so ago, when we had been in contact less than a week ago. I feel compelled to say something no matter how ineffectual and paltry it will, of necessity, be. what good does it do? I cannot honestly say. at all. and yet these appendages affixed to my hands, indeed, part of my hands, if we have to define them as such, and not as "four relationships" as Bateson would have it, keep on making movements that result in characters appearing on a screen, that will ultimately find their way into the retinas and brain cells of others. but is that not putting to fine a point on it that Jói was part of that conglomeration of what I laughingly refer to as "my life?" no. he was part of me. and so, it seems, I was of him.

Although I cannot be completely sure, I think we were first introduced when I was doing live sound for Unun, a group he played in for some time in Reykjavík, a few times. or maybe it was through Reptilicus. or maybe just generally being there in Iceland, as at that time, it was almost unavoidable not to meet everyone doing something in that time at that time, before it became the multi-cultural hub that I understand it now is, before the stag party weekends and gigantic spike in tourism. it seemed to me that if you walked down the main street and threw a stick, you hit three  musicians, and possibly some more. later it would be artists. doesn't matter. Jóhann was cut from a different cloth to others I knew - no disrespect to them, at all - by nature of his upbringing, his education for some part being outside of Iceland, and some slightly aloof tendencies, which I later learned were shielding a lack of self-esteem. no, I really don't think he would mind me saying that now, since you ask.

over the course of a short time, we ended up becoming embroiled in a situation which was called "a studio" and that is being charitable, to say the least: it was a garage. and so it came to pass that we were basically in each other's hair (for we both had some at that time, gentle reader) a great deal of the time. after some rather terrible times on my part, I ended up living above this, and gradually, things started to get entangled in the way that cables do when left to their own devices in a box, no matter how carefully they are wrapped up. Jói was busy with several dextrous fingers in several warm-ish pies, and for a long time was not really putting his eggs in any one basket, although perhaps he would have had an easier time of it if he had. everything he was involved with came to the brink, and many times, several brinks of rampant success. but the brink, or brinks, they remained.

until one day. and this is real memory talking here. I remember when he brought in the tape his father had supplied him with of the "singing" IBM machine. it was impossible to ignore what this was. Jóhann had been swallowing material I fed or left around or suggested to him for a long time after we came in contact of the "odd" sort, and it is easy to say that his real vision (but I would be lying if I said I thought he owned that vision for himself at that point) to combine the considerable obvious musical facility he had with the strangeness and "otherness" of that which he digested from my crappy cassette copies of the classics of "weird music." the piece made him. and rightly so. it was the first really "him" piece. well, that's what I say. that was not the soul of the machine on that record; it was his. I begged him for years to let me mix it, and now, in retrospect (lovely thing that it is) I see why he wouldn't let me.

when we worked together, on various things and in various roles, he drove me almost bonkers with his perfectionism. I would pass by the studio to see if the thing was being used (which it nearly always was), or to fix computer problems (my job) or chinwag about various abtruse philosophical ideas; and on one occasion, he was working on two bars of a rhythm track, I think, for a LHOOQ song. I came back two days later, and he was working on the same two bars. obviously, this had been more or less continuously chewed on in the intervening period, but I could not detect any difference whatsoever. I doubt, by this point, that he could. but he was hoping that it would perfect itself because of his persistence. and because I share that double-edged sword - the other edge of which is called "stubborness" - I understood.

Jóhann always wanted to be "the man behind the curtain," and finally, he wasn't. thank $DEITY for that. although you will not find our collaborations listed in many places, they exist, and quite intense they were and are, too. I was "consultant" on a few of his more recent projects, supplying him with input both sonic and literary. the reasons these things did not bear (public) fruit cannot be told at this time. but Jóhann was always generous in attributing infuence from my rather random input: 


there are more if you care to go looking.

we did not do nearly enough together, and we did not see each other nearly enough in the last years. although we were planning to about a week ago. the new "secret" project he wished me to consult on would have been quite a mind-blower, and the correspondence was long and involved.

what he managed to do, in a relatively short time, is find his own voice and that, friends and listeners, is a truly rare thing in this day and age. naturally, you can hear his influences, of which there are many, but you will not, I dare say (I double dare) be able to deny on listening to his rather stupendous output that it has something unique about it, and I hope you wll pause to reflect on how he can, and does, and will continue to, touch the soul of the listener. you may not know exactly where, but it reaches in and does things. things that should be done. things he worked long and hard to allow himself to do. he overcame something that many people cannot, and to a large extent as far as I can see from this insane distance with which I am now faced, found something that is so human that it can frighten most people away never to return.

Jóhann Jóhannsson, you taught me that persistence is something not to be afraid of, but a tool to be used until it no longer becomes necessary. I wish I could have helped you more, and I will honour your memory, and actual (not pretend) friendship, as long as I have another breath left in me. I wish, I really wish I wasn't writing this. I really will miss you.

(photos by Einar Snorri, 1995 - used without permission, but I hope he won't mind)

[edit] some photos of the "studio" (NT&V), ca. 2000

the back of Jóhann's head bottom right.