Jóhann Jóhannsson at The Mod Club in Toronto

4 May 2010

Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson played his long-awaited Toronto debut at The Mod Club this week to an intimate yet enraptured crowd. Joining him on stage were three violinists, a cellist, and his long-time collaborator Matthías Hemstock, who manipulated sounds and live samples, and the result was a subdued, and beautiful set of neo-classical ambience. Playing compositions from his critically acclaimed Fordlandia, and In the Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees, Jóhannsson sat pretty much motionless behind his gear, allowing the roving emotions in his music to speak for themselves. The string quartet helped make the live show a much more organic experience, and Jóhannsson’s music is so very much alive, this would have been lost if it had been just him up there with his laptop and electric piano.

The set began with the title track from Fordlandia and they played much of the quieter material first. Black and white films played on the wall behind the musicians, which was odd considering there were two large projection screens set up to the left and right of the stage, which remained blank. Tables and chairs were set up for us to sit comfortably through Jóhannsson’s minimal yet swirling arrangements. The highlight of the night was “Guidelines for a Space Propulsion Device” which relies on a loop of bassy synth and patiently grows into an orchestral frenzy, the strings building to a feverish climax, as Hemstock created head-bobbing percussion through live samples.

It was a beautiful show on a warm Tuesday night in Toronto. Very nice.

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