Erna Ómarsdóttir and Jóhann Jóhannsson

IBM 1401 – A User’s Manual (in memoriam)

21 & 22.06.18

CN D Pantin

While our technologically-equipped bodies and the amazing developments of artificial intelligence nourish fantasies of a possible dehumanisation, Erna Ómarsdóttir instead stages a pacified vision of the relationship between mankind and machines. The piece’s argument takes its inspiration from the story of the first computer to arrive in Iceland, in 1964: an IBM 1401, which, once it had become obsolete, was honoured with a funeral ceremony, after it had learnt to “sing” one of the country’s old anthems. Produced in collaboration with the composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, the score samples a fragment of it, recorded in 1971, to highlight their shared desire to mingle the mechanical and the organic. In this way, the piece synchronises sonic material (organ and loudspeakers), composition (hypnotic loops, slow melodies) and choreography (rotation of the dancers) around a circular motif so as to establish the possibility of a harmonious coexistence and reciprocal understanding.

Erna Ómarsdóttir was born in Reykjavik (Iceland) and graduated from P.A.R.T.S., Anne Teresa de Keersemaeker’s dance school. As a performer, she has worked with ballet companies such as C de la B, Jan Fabre and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. She is artistic director of the Iceland Dance Company which premiered SACRIFICE in 2017, a "festival of common things made holy", including Shrine by Erna Ómarsdóttir and Valdimar Jóhannsson, and Dies Irae (with Gabriela Friðriksdóttir), Union of the North (feature film made in collaboration with Matthew Barney) and No Tomorrow by Ragnar Kjartansson, Margrét Bjarnadóttir and Bryce Dessner.
IBM 1401, A User’s Manual, a collaboration between composer Johann Johannsson and dancer/choreographer Erna Ómarsdóttir was first performed in 2002. In late 2017 Erna and Johann started talking about the possibility of reviving this much acclaimed piece. Both artists very excited about revisiting a successful cooperation and wheels were brought into motion. Performances had already been scheduled when, sadly, Johann Johannsson passed away in February 2018. With her re-working of the piece, Erna Ómarsdóttir commemorates a longtime collaborator and a dear friend.