Bleak Is Beautiful: Rúnar Magnússon

Komplett Kollaps

   Also on Spotify

The name of (Icelandic born, but currently living in Denmark) Rúnar Magnússon will probably not immediately ring a bell with most readers. Nevertheless, he’s been active in the music scene for quite a few years, making music as well as running the hljodaklettar label together with Sabrina Joy. I first heard of this label in 2011 when they released a compilation of experimental music on a USB drive in the shape of an oversized tampon. This detail is of course not very relevant when talking about these new releases, but it may demonstrate the adventurous level of what we’re talking about here.

Magnússon has been ‘invisible’ for quite some time because of ‘a mental collapse’ that in part was triggered by the death of his friend Jóhann Jóhansson in 2018. “I did not start to see the darkness lift until the summer of 2021 when I finally sought out professional help. I got the diagnosis ADHD which helped me understand a lot about my life.”
Between 2018 and 2021, he worked on three different albums, but “had not been able to finish until I got the diagnosis”.

Komplett Kollaps (no need for a translation), is a direct dedication to Jóhannsson. Literally, because Magnússon uses various sounds that Jóhann gave him throughout the years, and “had provided some sound manipulation for some stuff and acted as a third ear on some releases.”
The main source was a recording of Jóhann improvising on a church organ, to study the possibilities of the organ. This can be heard here as Dr. Diablo Plays The Organ. Thé most direct reference is the sample used in A Star’s Gone Dim.

Even though they shared a common musical interest, Komplett Kollaps does not sound like a Jóhann Jóhannsson album. Because it isn’t: it’s a Rúnar Magnússon album. An album reflecting a very dark period in Magnússon’s life, but still an enjoyable listening experience in the end.

Sub-Photic Scenario


Sub-photic Scenario is the second release of this trilogy created between 2018 and 2021. (The third, Inside Out Of Chaos, will be released on Tapeworm). The three releases are connected: together they “form a trilogy that shows the mental state I was in, an incapacitating, downward spiral, a crushing chaos but in the end searching for the light and a way out of the maze and up to the surface.”

The title refers to the bioluminescence of deep sea creatures: ‘this work was inspired by the deep ocean, the pressure, the darkness and the fact that there are amazing creatures down there creating their own light, brightening up their surroundings via bioluminescence. Using chemical reactions these lifeforms become pockets of lights in the otherwise pitch-black, harsh environment they live in.’
The light generated by these deep sea creatures is a ray of hope, but their direct environment is still pitch black. As is the sound: this music feels as lonely as the deep sea, yet at the same time, it’s as fascinating environment.

Sub-Photic Scenario is dedicated to Rúnar’s father, who died just before he started working on it.
“His favourite orchestra was the nature orchestra. He took me to sea as a child and taught me to respect nature and my fellow human beings, especially those that might be less fortunate.”

So, the music on these two albums represents a kind of darkness and loneliness that no one wants to experience personally, but which translates to (ambient) music in a fascinating way. ‘Bleak is Beautiful’, one could say.

Komplett Kollaps was digitally released on September 19: Jóhann’s birthday. A vinyl edition will be out on the day of his death: February 9.
Sub-Photic Scenario was released on December, 2, on CD and digital.
But the trilogy is not complete without the third part titled Inside Out Of Chaos – on which probably more light starts to appear. (I’m not sure when this will be released).

In the meantime: for those of you (like me) that can’t get enough of this music: Rúnar Magnússon has also put five other (recent) releases on his Bandcamp page – one of which is tellingly named Oh, Where Have I Been….

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  1. Pingback: Bleak Is Beautiful | Runar Magnusson

  2. Jp Boudreau

    Jóhann’s passing, in the bleakest sense, was tragic for those of us who lived and thrived on his musical creations. His gifts of sound, evoking such depth of humanity, to Runar Magnusson, is in turn being gifted to us as listeners to provide a new way forward in hope and solace.