has often stated that she felt doubly marginalised in the conservative environment of Denmark: as an electronic composer and as a woman. After she was hired as a producer in Danish Radio’s music department, she felt belittled and ridiculed for her efforts, and spent more time in the technical department where the engineers took more interest in her ideas and encouraged her to continue. “I had some friends there, engineers in Danish Radio. I was up in their studio all the time asking them questions: What is this? What does that mean? And so on. And they were so sweet – they thought it was wonderful that someone came and asked them things because no one cared what they were doing. There sat Denmark’s best engineers and no one cared to speak to them!” she recalls, outraged at the memory.
“I have been searching for sounds all my life,” Pade declares. Her high pitched, strangely metallic voice is frailer than you would expect from her appearance. This quest began when she was growing up in the city of Århus. Ill health isolated her from other children. “In my childhood I was sick with a recurring kidney infection,” she says. “I lay in bed for so long, but I could lie and listen to the sounds outside.” The radio was her closest childhood companion. Interviewed by Danish Radio in 2001, she elaborated: “It might be the sound of children playing in the garden or the sound of my mother’s friends visiting. When they were all talking at the same time in the next room, it sounded exactly like a large aviary with cackling birds… Early in my life, I got a very close relationship to radio plays and their special way of using sounds. ”
As a young woman, she found herself isolated once again, this time in a German prison camp during the
Second World War. After spitting at German troops marching through Nazi-occupied Århus, she ran off, with a soldier in hot pursuit, until she lost him by hiding in her piano teacher’s house. Her teacher encouraged her to make a difference by joining the resistance. “We were a group of six women who were sent out to go into various German compounds to gather information and find out what was in there, so that saboteurs could come back and blast them in the air,” she recalls. “We made out as if we were a group of lost giggling girls who stood in the yard, [pretending] our socks had fallen down so we had to bend down and fix them [and get a proper look around].
“Usually it went really well,” she continues. “But we were shadowed all the time and then one morning there were knocks on all our doors. They caught the whole group and put us into Frøslev prison camp. We knew very well what we had been doing. But it was not fun for the parents, because they did not know anything. Oh, it was ugly.”
The Danish prison camp was erected just inside the border in order to avoid the deportation of Danish political prisoners to Germany. Conditions for detainees were generally tolerable. “It was not a labour camp,” Pade asserts. “All you could do was sit there in isolation and with a total lack of any stimuli. No reading material, nothing.” As in her childhood, she was alone again listening to sounds. Compelled by the need to make musical works from the little she could hear, she devised a notational system on the prison walls and carved out notes with the metal buckle on her garters. “I nearly lost my head because I had of course sabotaged the Danish prison property with my notes! But it was OK,” she continues matterof-factly. “I also unravelled my woolly sweaters and made balls of them, and so I practised playing ball. And then I took the paper the food was wrapped in and read that – it was German newspapers.”
Once out of prison, she became a piano student at the Royal Danish Conservatory in Copenhagen but soon moved on to composition. The piano, she discovered, didn’t provide her the means to express the nuances of her inner soundworld. Again, the radio provided a way out. In 1952 she had an epiphanic moment while listening to a documentary about the musique concrète of Pierre Schaeffer. The young Pade sat spellbound by the sounds that evoked her experiences as a child, ably reproducing their complexity in a way that a musical instrument could not. She wrote to Radio France to get more information and went to Paris that same year to hear and learn more. At home she was alone in her enthusiasm. Prominent Danish composers such as Knudåge Riisager, along with eminent critics, dismissed electronics as cacophonous and as having nothing to do with composition. But Pade pursued her new direction with gusto.
She remembers meeting Schaeffer for the first time. “My sister in law lived in Paris and I stayed with her often during vacations,” she says. “She managed to get an audience with Schaeffer and we were invited to his private home. I said she needed to come with me as an interpreter. So off we went – that was some experience. His apartment was completely crowded with furniture. He had this Wagner-style, excessive, pompous plush furniture with tassels and whatnot.
“It was so much fun!” she enthuses. “His speakers were hanging in the corners, shaped like giant ears. I went and sat on the sofa next to my sister in law and she said under her breath, ‘You must not get ill!’,
Else Marie Pade with engineer Villy Bak in the studio at Danish Radio, 1962
A L O N E
Else Marie Pade | The Wire | 29