The last 24 hours have been miserable. Last night, David Simon took to Twitter to sadly announce that Reg E. Cathey, the astounding character actor known for key roles in TV (House of Cards, The Wire, Oz, Outcast, etc.) and film (Airheads, The Mask, American Psycho, Pootie Tang, etc.), had passed away after a battle with cancer at 60. And then this morning, the sense of loss was compounded with the news that Jóhann Jóhannsson, the ingenious musician and composer behind the wondrous scores for Sicario, Arrival, and The Theory of Everything, has also passed away due to unknown causes. Jóhannsson was only 48.
Born in Reykjavik, Iceland, Jóhannsson began his career on the fringes of modern classical and ambient music, releasing the exceptional Englabörn in 2002 and the astounding Virðulegu Forsetar in 2004 before he started working in film scores. He would go onto release two more solo records – 2008’s Fordlândia and 2016’s Orphee – while also collaborating with fellow Icelandic musicians in the Apparat Organ Quartet and Evil Madness. His most memorable work, however, remains the sublime soundscapes he created for Denis Villeneuve’s films, including 2013’s Prisoners and an abandoned score for Blade Runner 2049. One hopes that we might now get to hear what he had planned for the sci-fi epic, as it now would seemingly be one of his last works.
Jóhannsson also provided an exhilarating score for Bill Morrison‘s excellent The Miners’ Hymns, while his lovely score for James Marsh‘s The Mercy is easily the best part of the upcoming drama. The music he made for Marsh’s film suggests that he had plenty more sonic exploration in him but that feels like small potatoes. In interviews and conversations with other artists, Jóhannsson came off as at once a technical obsessive and deeply human in his views on collaboration and his distinct art. Not unlike Cathey, his appearance as part of any movie’s production immediately signaled that it was something worth taking a look at, even if just to hear how he had reflected on the themes and ideas of the narrative. And like few other composers currently working, his music only grew in substance and ambition when listened to without the accompanying images, a sea of lush and fractured sounds swarming into a wildly moving whole. To say he will be missed would be an understatement.