Garth Davis praises late Johann Johannsson as ‘an introverted genius’

Director Garth Davis  has spoken about working with composer Johann Johannsson on his last score before he died at the age of 48.

The Oscar-nominated musician worked on scores for films including Arrival, Sicario and The Theory Of Everything before he was found dead in his Berlin apartment in February.

The last movie he worked on was Davis’ Mary Magdalene, with Rooney Mara in the title role and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus.

Garth Davis with Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara (Ian West/PA)

Describing the Icelandic composer’s “other worldliness”, Davis told Edith Bowman’s podcast Soundtracking: “Sadly we have lost Johann and one of the songs that he focused most of his attention on was what we thematically called the mustard seed track.

“I had printed out a picture of a painting I had found and it’s two people standing, looking up into the light. There are all these angels that become more and more dense the further they get into the light.

“I was trying to explain to Johann that for me it’s an experiential piece of music, its not about memory or emotion it’s about the experience of ascension.  So it’s so ironic that he has passed and the last song that he really focused on was about ascension.

Johann Johannsson (Matt Crossick/PA)

“When we were recording the beautiful voices at Air Studios, he and I were standing in the room and we had that exact picture there for the artists and we were experimenting and getting the vocalists to express that feeling and multiplying their voices and overlaying and there was a point where that picture was created through the vocalisation.

“I remember looking over to Johann and he had a tear and I had a tear and he just had this little smile on his face.

“He was a quiet guy and an introverted genius but I know the project really touched him.”

Soundtracking with Edith Bowman Episode 82: Garth Davis is available now at

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