Dressed entirely in black, his head freshly shaved, Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson made his Minneapolis debut in the most self-effacing way imaginable. Even two standing ovations from last night's capacity Southern Theater crowd failed to coax a single syllable out of him.
Alternately hunched over a compact array of electronic gear and an upright piano, the 40-year-old post-minimalist pretty much just acted like a guy in a band. The closest he came to anything even vaguely resembling conducting was an occasional discreet glance toward the five musicians onstage with him.
Not that they needed direction.
Regularly performing as the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (aka ACME), violinists Keats Dieffenbach and Caleb Burhans, cellist Clarice Jensen and violist Nadia Sirota interpreted selections from Johannsson's four albums (along with a couple new pieces) the way fish interpret water, working the rich hues and unapologetically beautiful melodic figures the composer favors for maximum depth and color. Regular Johannsson collaborator Matthias Hemstock was even more in his element, constantly adding subtle electronic flourishes and often augmenting the composer's sequenced beats with live percussion.
Opening duo Tarlton also blended electronics and traditional instruments, with founder and sole core member Brett Bullion capturing and looping chunks of his live drumming, then layering additional drums and bold, melodic synth statements.
But while Bullion's most dramatic moments came when he distilled a single element of the rich broth he and bassist Adam Wozniak created down to a single concentrated flavor, Johannsson and company's performance climaxed with the decidedly dense, surgingly erotic "Melodia," from last year's Icelandic Music Awards winner, "Fordlandia."
"That piece is so much fun," Sirota observed during an after-show smoke break in front of the theater. "With so many composers, you have to play in this restrained way. But with Johann, you can really get into the physical aspects of playing."
Rod Smith writes about music.