Jóhann Jóhannsson’s film scores tend to speak for themselves, but the “Sicario” and “Arrival” composer recently made an exception by appearing on the Song Exploder podcast to discuss his work. The main topic of discussion was the piece “Heptapod B” from Denis Villeneuve’s latest film, which the Icelandic musician describes as “subsonic rumbling.”
Jóhannsson also worked with Villeneuve on “Prisoners,” the director’s English-language debut, and will likewise score his “Blade Runner” sequel due out next October. He describes his process during the podcast, going in depth on the layering techniques he used alongside synthesizers, wood and the human voice. “I avoided long notes,” he says, which was part of his attempt not to simply mimic “2001: A Space Odyssey.” “I wanted to work with this kind of stuttering, random, rhythm pattern of female voices — I wanted something that was almost like a cloud of these staccato rhythms.”
In keeping with the film’s exploration of language and communication, the choirs Jóhannsson worked with never sang actual words; their vocalizations were all short, even nonsensical. One of his primary reference points — whose voice he even used as a sample — was the avant-garde vocalist Joan La Barbara, a highly influential figure within contemporary music. Listen to the full 15-minute episode below.