THE ROCKET BUILDERS
Thursday night, my friend Plastorm took me out to see Jóhann Jóhannsson at the Aladdin Theater here in Portland. I was not familiar with the Icelandic composer's music, but an extra ticket is an extra ticket, so what the hell.
The show was a special experience. The performing band was a string quartet flanked by two men noodling around on laptops--one of whom was Johansson. Together, they created ambient instrumentals, the kind of music that you would swear was done for a film because it so vividly creates pictures in your head. There is nothing on earth like the upper register of a violin, and witnessing three violinists working in unison is awe inspiring.
Here is an example of what Jóhansson's music sounds like, and what the concert was like:
Naturally, a set-up like this is more about listening than watching, the band isn't exactly dynamic. Jóhannsson had a minimalist backdrop that provided just enough visual energy to keep the audience focused but not so much that it upstaged him. This was something that opening act Goldmund could stand to learn from. Godlmund's stripped-back piano compostitions are gorgeous examples of restraint (every time your brain hears an opening for a crescendo or some kind of surge, he holds back), but boy, it doesn't make for riveting live material. He also didn't seem to have put much thought into arranging his set list to create any kind of movement or momentum, like we might be building to something from song to song. I have to admit, Jóhann Jóhannsson had the same problem. He had one song that worked its way up to a frenzied conclusion, one that fired up the audience and had us on our feet as it came crashing down--but then he inexplicably followed it with one more short, quiet number. And even more inexplicably, he left the stage after that, only to come back for an encore that was less than two-minutes long. What a perfunctory gesture. Did neither performer consider how they wanted their audience to feel leaving the concert, what they hoped we'd take away?
Regardless, both Goldmund and Jóhann Jóhannsson are worth checking out if you like aurally adventurous instrumental music. Big thanks to Bobby for having me as his guest and introducing me to both musicians!
Current Soundtrack: Christina Aguilera interviews on YouTube (check her channel); "I Turn to You (Big Red Remix)"
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All text (c) 2010 Jamie S. Rich