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World Music CD Reviews Europe

Johann Johannsson

By Bruce Miller
Published April 27, 2007

IBM 1401, A User’s Manual

This album, the third from Icelandic composer Johannsson, is a triumph of the human spirit. Tender, breathtaking and worthy of repeated visits, it’s a lushly orchestrated soundtrack for a world devoid of the type of aggression that causes so much misery. Its title refers to an early computer, which was the first to arrive in Iceland in 1964. Johannsson’s father was a maintenance engineer for IBM, as well as a composer, and he managed to coax electromagnetic waves from the machine with the help of a radio receiver. IBM 1401, then, is a series of compositions based on that computer’s last emitted sounds 35 years ago. Past meets present, and machine, often considered “soulless,” meets essence for a work of curious, sweeping gorgeousness. With the help of The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, the 1401’s final song can now be heard as a statement of fortitude instead of retirement.