The shed is a quiet but magnetic presence. Its roof, collapsed. Its sides, misshapen. It sits within a woodland, built on stone and shrouded in dusty brown and weathered purple. A pathway carves through, chasing after a river, giving way into a feisty Scottish strait. All was undisturbed until the storm made its reckless way through the North Minch — Skotlandsfjörð, by her Old Norse name. Up the icy water went, drawn by the storm, then splashed against the Western Isles. An effortless move for the gods but what tremendous impact for mortals ashore. Bellowing and booming, the storm went while wind and waves crashed against the island, ruffling its woodlands. Skinny branches rattled. Its few leaves faltered. I was mesmerised.

The rousing landscape conjured sounds of Jóhann Jóhannsson and his heavy, moving symphonies. For the second time that month, I was seized by mythology and its theatrics.

When the Icelandic composer performed at the Barbican, I was amidst safer terrain. Plush seats and a hushed crowd. Before me, a folkloric tableau comprised of Jóhannsson and his accompaniment: Echo Collective, Britten Sinfonia Voices, Adam Wiltzie and Tóti Gudnason.

Like the woodland shed, Jóhannsson was statuesque in the left corner of the stage, at times unmoving but wholly demanding of our attention. He is neither misshapen nor collapsed, but there’s a distinct presence of history and old world carried by his being. My woodland in the Outer Hebrides were merely acting the part of his chorus — strings, voice, organ, lights. All at the mercy of Jóhannsson’s crescendos.

Jóhann Jóhannsson

A static recording from a Cold War radio broadcast played. It was a young girl counting in German ever so faintly then increasingly louder against a melodic string arrangement. Was that code? In ‘A Song for Europa’, she fades then returns again, incongruous with the string ensemble. Was it a test? A mystery had begun, and so had the final performance of Jóhannsson’s Orphée tour through Europe.

It was otherworldly, to say the least.

As the cryptic static recordings fell silent, there emerged a swelling of sound, light and movement. Across the stage, rays of light twitched like ballerinas’ legs before transforming into lasers of blue and green, darting from the heavens down to Jóhannsson and his accompaniment. Creatures from worlds beyond could have transported them away, figments of my imagination.

But then the crackling of the tape brought us back to earth. The intervals of recorded Cold War broadcasts acted as anchors, so the audience never frayed too far before the next song.

I was most seduced by the dance of the violins. Against a pulsing backdrop of purple luminosity, Echo Collective’s violinists swayed, powerless against their role in the arrangement. They were like blades of grass battling high winds, particularly in ‘A Sparrow Alighted Upon Our Shoulder’. How they sliced against their instruments to produce such a stirring sound.

Jóhann Jóhannsson

It was not unlike Jóhannsson’s own weight against the piano in ‘Flight from the City’. When he crashed down on the keys, its vigour pulled the cello and violins’ songs along with it. Then. A pause. Though quiet, there was a magnitude reverberating across the audience. And before it dulled into a silence, Jóhannsson and his ensemble were at it again. It was beautiful and unsettling, in the way a Greek tragedy unfolds into the inevitable.

A good friend had originally pointed me in the direction of Jóhannsson. He and a few others caught Orphée in Berlin’s Funkhaus, a stunning venue that’s captivating in its own right. I had asked what’s to be expected. He said naught, other than it would all unfold if I closed my eyes. And whenever the chorus of Britten Sinfonia Voices struck, I reclined further into my seat and shut my eyes. It worked. Their voices rose up and everywhere, sidling around my arms and shoulder, tickling around my neck, sitting atop my cheeks. ‘Orphic Hymn’, I had decided then and there, is the score that shall play when I drift off into fjords afar. Perhaps the hymn itself would carry me away.

Back at the face of Skotlandsfjörð where wild and furious waters roared, a gruesome temptation from within wondered of safe passage across the pathway, as if granted from the gods. It took a moment to snap out of my spell. I backed away, feeling more and more like I had spied on a private moment.

A few days later, I returned to the site of the shed and its woodland. The storm was gone, the water calmed. The sunlight switched the colours to burnt red with specks of moss. Nearby, a pup trotted along, carrying a branch far too big for his wee self. Smug little pupper. The rumblings of reality. And that dramatic row between wind, water and land, and the hymns of Orphée, were like reveries of a lifetime ago.

You can view Behind the Scenes photos from the night by heading here.