Billed as Jóhannsson’s return to the studio for a solo album, his first in a half-dozen years, Orphée (loosely based on Ovid’s version of the myth of Orpheus) arrives on the back of extensive studio work, Jóhannsson now one of the go-to names for Hollywood movie soundtracks. Prior to his first few solo albums there were scores for theatre, TV and film but in-between his solo albums he’s picked up awards and been hired as a replacement to work on huge movie projects including scores for The Theory of Everything, Sicario, Arrival and as a music and sound consultant for the score and overall sound design for Aronofsky’s Mother!
There are moments here (Fragment II) that recall the use of space and the overall sonic landscape of his work on, particularly, Arrival’s stunning score, but Orphée is more of a contemporary classical piece, moving from the plaintive Harold Budd-like piano spacings of the opening Flight From The City through choral and organ pieces with subtly incorporated electronics, oscillations of static wind through The Burning Mountain as The Dirac Quartet’s strings move in to support the funereal waft of the church organ.
It’s not just Jóhannsson’s conceptual space and use of it in his compositions, it’s his wisdom around who to use and how to use them, bringing in remarkable players from a multitude of disciplines. Cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir is classically trained but has favoured working with the likes of Throbbing Gristle, Animal Collective and Sun O))). She’s a subtle, guiding presence combining with the Air Lyndhurst String Orchestra for Good Night, Day.
There’s a perfect build in this song-cycle too from the soft piano opener – a feeling of isolation, through to the closing Orphic Hymn featuring Theatre of Voices. The music – any single piece here – is remarkable But the build of it, the feel and flow, the subtle power of its shaping, the little space carved out in the world for this – and just this – to exist is what is truly mesmeric and masterful here. One of those pieces of music that acts as a meditation, a soundtrack for whatever awareness exercise you’ve been told to practice, or read about and scoffed at, or diligently mastered; a little set of newly composed spiritual silences to fall down into, to fall under the spell of, to make your world – for 45 minutes or so – an extra special place.