Live Review: Jóhann Jóhannsson – Chevron Festival Gardens, Perth (29.02.16)

Jóhann Jóhannsson wasn’t much of a talker on Monday night; maybe nobody gave him a microphone, but his music and compositions were exquisite.

Performing as part of the Perth International Arts Festival, the Oscar nominated composer was accompanied on stage by the Adelaide based Zephyr Quartet, as over the course of seventy minutes he beguiled and enthralled his audience with a selection of compositions from throughout his career.

Alternating between a laptop and a grand piano Jóhannsson, mixed pre-recorded samples and synthesized elements with live elements to create atmospheric and absorbing soundscapes. These songs, tinged with melancholy, unfurled slowly, almost glacially (pardon the cliché) with the strings slowly building over simple piano motifs or pre-recorded “industrial” or electronic elements.

The evening’s performance drew heavily from albums like IBM 1401 A Users Manual and Englabörn; and the compositions for me really conjured up almost a feeling of space, airiness and a chilliness (though a cooler evening and light drizzle may have helped in that regard too); and as slightly clichéd as it sounds I found myself picturing what I imagine to be an Icelandic landscape.

Having an outdoor concert is always an interesting proposition, especially when the music has a quieter quality; and certainly a blast of sirens earned a few tuts for an audience member or two around me. But Jóhannsson’s compositions often seemed to be a lovely accompaniment to the gentle hum of the city in the evening; indeed as these atmospheric soundscapes unfurled you could almost forget that metres away were office blocks and train stations.

Jóhannsson may not have won the Oscar on Monday for his soundtrack to Sicario; but he certainly seemed to win favour with the assembled crowd at the Chevron Festival Gardens. I would perhaps have liked to hear a bit more about the story behind the songs; but it was an enjoyable and superb performance nonetheless. A wonderful way to start the final week of the festival.