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Johann Johannsson & father Johann Gunnarsson
Table of Contents
- Reply from Jóhann Gunnarsson - Wed, Feb 14, 2018 1:57 am
- Jóhann Gunnarsson 1401 Lab Visit, March, 16, 2011 - Sun, Feb 11, 2018 7:16 pm
- Subject: Composer of IBM 1401 – A User’s Manual, Jóhann Jóhannsson, - Feb 11, 2018 5:26 pm
- Your Son - Feb 11, 2018
- Subject: Composer of IBM 1401 – A User’s Manual, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Icelandic composer, musician and producer, died in Berlin yesterday - Feb 10, 2018
- Bill Morrison and Jóhann Jóhannsson: IBM 1401, A User’s Manual (2012) linked Feb 2017
- a summary/introduction of ... - added April 27, 2013
- compelling five-minute promotional trailer from Robert Garner 04/06/13
- A "computer music" trailer - added March 2, 2013
- Notes from Iceland from Johann - Jan 30, 2011
- NPR interview with Jóhann Jóhannsson, & also sounds from the 1401 lab from Robert Garner
- Two e-mails about possible movie about 1401 themed Orchestral Music e-mail from Robert Garner, Feb 8, 2012
Reply from Jóhann Gunnarsson - Wed, Feb 14, 2018 1:57 am
Thank you, Robert, Ed, and all the members of the 1401 team for your consideration of Jóhann's life and work. Just as we the old 1401 addicts, he fell in love with the magic of that huge metallic thing, and what came out of it became a major milestone in his career. Personally I am proud of my humble part in all that.
Robert, I do not remember seeing as thorough a description of the idea behind the very successful performance of the 1401 A users manual by Jóhann and Erna Ómarsdóttir as in the correspondance between you and him, as seen in your other mail to me the other day. If you do not mind I should like to make that available to other fans of Jóhann. PLease let me know if you have any objection.
With my warmest regards and thanks to you all of the 1401 restoration team.
Jóhann Gunnarsson 1401 Lab Visit, March, 16, 2011 - Sun, Feb 11, 2018 7:16 pm
Can you please post this video with Johann Gunnarsson visiting the 1401 Lab on March 16, 2011, experiencing some “AM Radio” music, to the new aforementioned page, thanks! - Robert
Ed, Ditto for this 43-sec video of a longer AM radio song — which one?
(a little silly, but hey, that’s what age grants us. ;-))
Ed Thelen claims seniority ;-)
Subject: Composer of IBM 1401 – A User’s Manual, Jóhann Jóhannsson, - Feb 11, 2018 5:26 pm
From: Robert Garner
Date: Sun, Feb 11, 2018 5:26 pm
Mike, Dag, Lyle, 1401ers,
I’m saddened and disheartened to hear this horrible news of Jóhann Johannsson's passing. He was only 48. His career was still expanding, recently authoring spectacular soundtracks for inspiring movies such as "The Theory of Everything”..
… and the stunningly dramatic sci-fi movie “Arrival:”
My interactions with and homage to a gifted and creative man:
I first heard of Jóhann in 2007 (in preparation for the 50th Anniversary of the IBM 1401 event at the CHM in 2009), when I was casting about on-line trying to locate Fran Underwood. Googling had landed me on a CD review site where one Dorthy Underwood Harper (Fran’s sister) said she had given a copy of the “IBM 1401: A User’s Manual” CD to Fran for his 80th birthday! (review copied below).
I soon learned that the young, avant-garde composer had a busy concert schedule performing throughout Europe and America. The “IBM 1401: A User’s Manual” symphony and a modern dance piece (see Jóhann's comments below) had been experienced by thousands. So I was delighted to attend the Great America Music Hall in San Francisco (along with Judith Haemmerle) in May, 2010 to experience his production. The younger folks in the audience were a bemused to hear that we actually had a working IBM 1401 at the CHM! ;-)
Later, Jóhann visited the CHM to experience our 1401s, hear the ethereal “AM Radio” sounds firsthand, and discuss his desire to extend his 1401 symphony as part of a new movie. He also became interested in working with Stan to “create new music on the 1401."
The video trailer promoting the proposed new movie is linked to on our 1401 web site:
The 1401 web site also has a copy of his short 2007 interview by Marc Werman, well-known host of NPR’s “The World”:
In a 2007 interview on NPR's The World, Johann described the piece as a homage to his father, Jóhann Gunnarsson, IBM's CE for the 1401 and Iceland's first computer. At the 1401's decommissioning farewell ceremony in 1971, he had recorded some popular Icelandic symphonic music via the 1401 AM radio program (which we having runing on our 1401s), five notes of which Johann used in his composition, along with the recorded voice from an old instructional maintenance tape for an IBM 421 Tabulator. In interviews, Johann expresses his feelings about his composition: “It's about this nostalgia for old machines, this a sort of tecno-nostolgia in a way, and also a kind of respect for the ancient. If a piece of technology has become redundant, it doesn't necessarily loose its worth.” A sorrowful passing, - Robert p.s. His father, Jóhann Gunnarsson, cc’d, visited the 1401 Lab in March, 2011:
He also forwarded a copy of his 1971 recording of their 1401’s “funeral decommissioning ceremony” under “Notes from Iceland” at http://ibm-1401.info/Johann.html http://ibm-1401.info/IcelandNumbers.html
Decommissioning & Farewell Ceremony of Iceland's first IBM 1401. Recorded by Johann Gunnarsson, et al.., March 12, 1971 at Klapparstigur 25 - 27 in Reykjavik, at the IBM Service Bureau. This was the last day of operation for a 1401 system in Iceland. We only had 2 of them altogether.
As many of you have heard me say, his “IBM 1401: A User’s Manual” piece is "the only symphony I know of written by a human, to be played by humans, dedicated to and about a computer.”
Jóhann told me that the symphony's name was inspired by the book “LIFE: A User’s Manual” by Parisian Georges Perec, stories of people in an apartment in Paris around 8pm on June 23, 1975. From the jacket: “LIFE is a manual of human irony, portraying the mixed marriages and fortunes, passions and despairs, betrayals and bereavements, of hundreds of lives in Paris and around the world."
In 2007, I asked Jóhann how the dramatic “User’s Manual” modern dance piece…
… could be so different from the soothing music of the symphony by the same name. Here was his penetrating response about the inspiration and rationale behind the symphony and the dance piece:
07/04/2007 02:33 PM
To: Robert B Garner/Almaden/IBM@IBMUS
Subject: Re: Wired article: "IBM 1401 Mainframe, the Musical"
I was happy to read your comments in the wired.com article on the IBM 1401 composition. I've been meaning to respond to your comments on Erna's choreography for the theater version of "IBM 1401, a User's Manual" which you sent a while ago (apologies for the late reply, b.t.w.).
Firstly, it's unfair to expect people to fully appreciate of a piece of choreography based on a short low resolution snippet on the Internet. Even a full-length video documentation cannot do justice to a piece of work which is meant to to be experienced as a live-on-stage performance. A lot of the effect is lost. Also, context is a problem as the piece is 45-50 minutes in length and what you saw is only the first 10 minutes. Even so, I feel that some of the comments warrant a response.
Robert Garner writes:
Erna is in such ostensible and writhing pain -- why?
A portrait of the (especially 60's) distrust of computers or angst of computers as inhuman, diabolical beings? (aka Fritz Lang's Metropolis, 1927)? Or...?*
- - - -
Erna's performances often provoke strong reactions, so we're not unused to comments such as this. We've preferred not to offer any one true interpretation of the piece, but instead asked people to read the background story and my notes on the various inspirations behind the piece (collected on http://www.ausersmanual.com). We've found that each person's interpretation is different and the that the piece resonates in different ways with different people. There is no one correct way of interpreting the piece. However, I will offer here some of the ideas that I feel are most prominent in the work.
In creating the piece, we decided to work with strong opposite and contrasting elements. For example, instead of beautiful, graceful dance movements illustrating a piece of ethereal and beautiful music, we chose to focus on jarring, convulsive, sometimes almost spasmodic body movements in deliberate contrast with the softness and beauty of the music. These movements can be interpreted as expressing pain, but for us it's much more the life-giving currents of electricity, the birth pangs of a new machine feeling the first stream of electrons flowing through it's veins (circuits). The dance piece involves very simple dichotomies such as hard/soft, mechanical/organic, body/machine. One central conceit in our piece is that in terms of movement and expression, the machine (Erna) is always alive, mobile and vibrant, but the operator (played by myself with the Hammond organ serving as a "console") is stiff, immobile and expressionless (I'm not acting, b.t.w., this is very much my normal stage demeanor, I'm afraid!). The machine is more human than it's human operator. Again, this is not to be over-interpreted, but it's clear from the piece that our sympathies are with the machine, it's very far from being demonized in any sense.
We're chronicling the first sparks of "life" of a machine that has been taught to do something it was not originally designed to do; to make music. It was this important fact that struck me, that the music of the IBM 1401 was made by exploiting a "defect" in the machine, i.e. the strong magnetic waves emitted by the core memory, waves which changed length (and thus pitch) depending on the operations programmed into the memory. For us, this "defect" thus becomes a random agent of mutation, pushing the machine to a new stage of evolution, one step closer (perhaps fancifully) to sentience. The fact this computer was "taught" to "sing" - given these primitive human qualities - gives us the poetic license to proclaim it a "missing link" in the evolution of AI, a real-life ancestor of "2001, a Space Odyssey's" HAL (HAL's name is, of course, formed by the letters immediately preceding IBM). Remember the song "Daisy, Daisy" sung by HAL in it's dying moments? The same song is sung by an IBM mainframe on the 1960's LP "Music from Mathematics", an album my father owned, and one I remember vividly from my youth.
But this is also a funeral of sorts, a farewell to old technology and a reflection on its value. It's very much a celebration of old technology, going all the way back to the steam machines of Charles Babbage. One near-contemporary of Babbage was Thaddeus Cahill, the inventor of the Teleharmonium. This was an electromechanical musical instrument, which weighed 7 tons and was the size of a living room, which produced sounds using a tonewheel system. It is a direct ancestor of the Hammond organ, and thus also of the synthesizer. We chose the Hammond organ and its accompanying Leslie revolving speaker to represent the "computer" physically on stage, with Erna being more of a representation of the 1401's "spirit".
The strongest inspiration for the piece came not only from the sounds or music of the computer, but also from the little speech that my father and his colleagues made at the start of the tape which documented the last "songs" of the IBM 1401, when it was taken out of service in Reykjavik in 1971 (see the full story on the web-site). This speech communicated the strength of the bond that these engineers felt for the machine and for me this sounded more to us like a farewell ceremony for a friend or at least something to which these men had formed a strong attachment. The exploration of this emotional bond between men and machine was what got us started.
We try to blend dance movements with a set-design and music that reflects themes of techno-nostalgia/discarded technology, nurture (programming computers/raising children), human and artificial intelligence. The choreography uses elements of the body as machine and dance as a mysterious, uncanny and intangible energy, much like electricity and explores both mechanical movements and organic movements and juxtaposes the two, seeking to find the link between them.
Finally I can only point to the many honours Erna has received from international dance critics - and the respect she enjoys in the world's contemporary dance scene. "De gustibus non est disputandum". I'm always happiest when I receive strong reactions to my work, whether they are positive or negative and this piece has certainly given us both kinds. The CD of the music stands on it's own, but it certainly has its roots in the dance performance, so for me this is an important, if distinct, part of the whole project. I hope some of the members of the IBM 1401 restoration team will some day be able to attend a live performance of the piece, whether it's music only or with Erna .
Regarding your idea of proposing the composition to the San Jose Symphony, in cooperation with the Computer History Museum, I would be very happy to see that happen. There are plans to perform the piece with orchestras in France and Reykjavik this year and the next.
UK Music Dorthy Harper’s review of “IBM 1401: A User’s Manual” 2007 review:
"The Sun's Gone Dim" oozes intelligence – it's a single that is to be appreciated and acknowledged rather than simply enjoyed. It is taken from Johansson's IBM 1401: A User's Manual – an album inspired by a 30 year old recording of an IBM mainframe his father made on reel to reel tape. It is performed by a sixty-piece string quartet and features specially created electronics as well as the original recording of the singing computer.
It is hauntingly melodic, emotive and powerfully atmospheric. It will surprise no one that Johansson has spent much of his career working on soundtracks of various forms – it is easy to imagine the piece as the score to a scene set on a snow swept mountain, perhaps even in his native Iceland.
As a single it is difficult to think of a moment when such music would be appropriate yet it somehow remains incredibly endearing. It is unlikely to remain in your CD player for long but may well be one you come back to.
The Sun's Gone Dim, Saturday, 15 September 2007
Written by Dorothy Underwood Harper
My father, Francis O. Underwood, was also one of the original 1401 design gurus in New York and to find this album to give to him on his 80th birthday was such an amazing moment for us. We love the album and we applaud Johann's touching approach to memorializing such an important technological event. Buy it and share it with your saavy friends.
Your Son - Feb 11, 2018
From: Robert Garner
I am so saddened to hear of your son’s passing!
My heart and condolences go out to you and your family.
(I’m sending a small homage to your son out to the 1401 crew here. I’ll cc you on it…)
Subject: Composer of IBM 1401 – A User’s Manual, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Icelandic composer, musician and producer, died in Berlin yesterday
From: Michael Cheponis
Subject: Composer of IBM 1401 – A User’s Manual, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Icelandic composer, musician and producer, died in Berlin yesterday
Date: February 10, 2018 at 6:55:52 PM PST
He composed IBM 1401 – A User’s Manual (2006). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_1401,_A_User%27s_Manual
All tracks written by Jóhann Jóhannsson and Sigvaldi Kaldalóns.
No. Title Length 1. "Part 1 / IBM 1401 Processing Unit" 8:32 2. "Part 2 / IBM 1403 Printer" 9:32 3. "Part 3 / IBM 1402 Card Read-Punch" 10:23 4. "Part 4 / IBM 729 II Magnetic Tape Unit" (vocals by Erna Ómarsdóttir) 7:15 5. "Part 5 / The Sun's Gone Dim and the Sky's Turned Black" (vocals by Jóhann Jóhannsson, lyrics by Dorothy Parker) 7:09
Vinyl-only bonus tracks
No. Title Length 6. "Part 1 / IBM 1401 Processing Unit" (live with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra) 7. "Part 5 / The Sun's Gone Dim and the Sky's Turned Black" (live with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra)
a summary/introduction of ... - added April 27, 2013
p.s. For those who haven't heard this yet, Jóhann is collaborating with the American film-maker Bill Morrison to create a musical and visual homage to the vintage 1401 (era), featuring an expanded version of his 1401 symphony and even plans for a quartet to tour the US & Europe. Here is a five-minute promotional trailer for the project, filmed at in our CHM 1401 restoration lab in December, featuring Jóhann, Bill, and myself: http://vimeo.com/57378793
Jóhann Jóhannsson's "IBM 1401: A User's Manual" is the only human-composed and performed symphony I know of whose theme is a computer. Its four movements are labeled "1401, 1403, 1402, and 729":
In a 2007 interview on NPR's The World... NPR interview with Jóhann Jóhannsson
... Jóhann described the piece as a homage to his father, Jóhann Gunnarsson, IBM's CE for Iceland's first computer, a 1401. At its decommissioning and farewell ceremony in 1971, Jóhann's father had recorded Icelandic symphonic music using the 1401 AM radio program (which we having runing on our 1401s), the sound of five notes of which Johann overlays in the piece, along with the recorded monologue voice from an instructional maintenance tape for an IBM 421 Tabulator. In interviews, Johann expresses his feelings about his composition: " It's about this nostalgia for old machines, this a sort of tecno-nostolgia in a way, and also a kind of respect for the ancient. If a piece of technology has become redundant, it doesn't necessarily loose its worth."
The symphony is available on Amazon and iTunes:
IBM 1401: A User's Manual symphony on Amazon
compelling five-minute promotional trailer - from Robert Garner, added April 6, 2013
As many of you know, the avant-garde Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson created a symphony dedicated to the 1401 in 2005, called "IBM 1401: A User's Manual." It's the only computer-dedicated symphony I know of written by a human and played by humans.*
Jóhann is now collaborating with the renowned American film-maker Bill Morrison to create a musical and visual homage to the vintage 1401, featuring an expanded version of his symphony.
Here is a compelling five-minute promotional trailer for the project, filmed at in our CHM 1401 restoration lab in December, featuring Jóhann, Bill, and myself: http://vimeo.com/57378793
Its four movements are labeled "1401, 1403, 1402, and 729". In a 2007 interview on NPR's The World, Johann described the piece as a homage to his father, Jóhann Gunnarsson, IBM's CE for the 1401 and Iceland's first computer. At the 1401's decommissioning farewell ceremony in 1971, he had recorded some popular Icelandic symphonic music via the 1401 AM radio program (which we having runing on our 1401s), five notes of which Johann used in his composition, along with the recorded voice from an old instructional maintenance tape for an IBM 421 Tabulator. In interviews, Johann expresses his feelings about his composition: " It's about this nostalgia for old machines, this a sort of tecno-nostolgia in a way, and also a kind of respect for the ancient. If a piece of technology has become redundant, it doesn't necessarily loose its worth."
Both Johann and his father greatly enjoyed their visits to our operational 1401s.
A "computer music" trailer - added March 2, 2013
from David Metcalfe, Artistic Director, email@example.com
... By the way, if you want to add a link on the CHM site link to the trailer video we made, you can using this link: http://vimeo.com/57378793
Notes from Iceland - from Johann - Jan 30, 2011
The composer you mention was not my grandfather. He was Sigvaldi S. Kaldalons, the grandfather of my friend and coauthor of the 1401 obituary, Örn Kaldalons. He started his career as a country doctor in a remote northwestern corner of Iceland, where now nobody lives. You can browse the environment here:
Here is a small piece of information about him, from a small museum concerning this particular part of the country:
The composition from which our five note theme was taken, Island Ogrum Skorid, is a very popular patriotic song, valued, I think I can say, next to the National Anthem:
Kaldalons also composet an Ave Maria, quite a lovely piece:
Hamraborgin is a favorite of every tenor in this country:
You may find more of his works on Youtube. Hope you enjoy these samples.
1401 RFI (Radio Frequency Interference) "music" from Iceland - probably RIAA free ;-))
1401 Music - 3.3 MegaBytes at the Decommissioning & Farewell Ceremony of Iceland's first IBM 1401. Recorded by Johann Gunnarsson, et al.., March 12, 1971 at Klapparstigur 25 - 27 in Reykjavik, at the IBM Service Bureau. This was the last day of operation for a 1401 system in Iceland. We only had 2 of them altogether. (Other than later with the U.S. Navy)
Following posted with permission from Jóhann Gunnarsson < firstname.lastname@example.org >
- Classical.mp3 47 seconds, 739 KBytes
- Island_ogrum_skorid.mp3 1:24 min, 1.3 megabytes, by Sigvaldi Kaldalons (1881 - 1946)
NPR interview with Jóhann Jóhannsson, & also sounds from the 1401 lab from Robert Garner
Here's Marc Weman of "The World" (on here in Bay Area from 2 - 3 pm) 2007 NPR interview with Jóhann Jóhannsson on his IBM 1401: A Users Manual. - 3.3 megaBytes
Robert Garner has been taking some movies and sounds of the 1401 area
Sounds - .mp3 files about 1 megabyte long
- IBM1403ChainPrinter.mp3 - 0.7 Megabytes
- IBM026KeyPunch.mp3 - 0.8 Megabytes
- IBM729RewindRead.mp3 - 1.3 Megabytes
- IBM1402CardReader.mp3 - 1.0 Megabytes
- IBM077Collator.mp3 - 1.7 Megabytes
Low resolution movies - getting practice ;-))
IBM 1403, 1402, 729, 026 movies at URL http://homepage.mac.com/robgarn/iMovieTheater8.html (Click on the top line of the black screen, all four movies will down load, then play in sequence.) local test of 'IBM 1403, 1402, 729, 026 Sounds' of http://homepage.mac.com/robgarn/.Movies/IBM1401SystemSounds.mov
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