because when I met great people, I could feel faint! He started to talk and he had such strong black eyes as he stared straight at me, and so he spoke faster and faster and eventually I started to sway and then I could hear my sister in law whisper, ‘Don’t you dare!’ And then suddenly Schaeffer got up, snapped his fingers and in came a young orientally dressed boy. Schaeffer gave him an order, and he returned balancing a tray of wine glasses. I got a big glass and I drank it and nearly choked on it, it was so strong! Then I saw the sun and moon and stars, and then I came to myself. Oh, it was fun!” she recalls excitedly. She collects herself and concludes in a neutral voice, “Well, that was it.”
After this unusual meeting Pade returned to Paris for Schaeffer’s classes and lectures. “He could be a hard teacher. He was never hard to me but if a student exhibited hesitation or doubt, Schaeffer would not leave it alone and ask again and again. That could be pretty nasty, but otherwise he was a good teacher.”
Pade’s first concrete composition, En Dag På Dyrehavsbakken (A Day At The Fair), was made for a TV documentary and premiered in 1955, the culmination of a year recording sounds at the local zoo with eight engineers. She was subsequently asked by the children’s radio division to sonically illustrate a host of fairy tales, including Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. In this 45 minute piece, all sounds connected to human life above water are seen and heard by the mermaid in concrete form – waves, church bells, thunder, rain, voices, laughter and so on – while all the sounds connected to her underwater world are purely electronic – “multiple chords, glissandi going up and down, growling tempest frequencies and light, vibrant sounds, serial tones and electronic tone splinters”, Pade writes in the notes accompanying the piece. The Little Mermaid led Pade to an important, if shortlived friendship. “I came to a place in The Little Mermaid when a mermaid is supposedly singing, but neither the technicians nor I were able to produce such a sound, even though we tried all kinds of things, manipulating sounds on the tape recorder. Then someone said: ‘Go and see Lauridsen in Laboratory III, I think he can help you.’ I went up there and Lauridsen was there, and he listened to what I said. Then he turned on a tone generator and turned some knobs and then the mermaid was singing!” she explained in her 2001 Danish Radio interview.
Holger Lauridsen was a radio engineer with ties to the newly established WDR Studio for Electronic Music in Cologne. He encouraged Pade to expand her sonic palette and introduced her to a wide range of synthetically generated material. “I had a valuable teacher in Lauridsen. But he died of leukemia a couple of years after I got to know him. It was a big, big loss for Denmark,” she laments.
In 1958, Pade travelled to the Brussels World Fair where she visited the Philips Pavilion built by Le Corbusier and Xenakis, which housed the monumental audio-visual Poème Electronique by Edgard Varèse. She also witnessed the premiere of Luciano Berio’s work Omaggio A Joyce. “ I had a fantastic time,” she recalls. “I met Boulez, Stockhausen and Pousseur. It was amazing to be among people with similar interests where you felt very much on the same wavelength. They were certainly not like the Danes. They were very polite in a non-condescending way, but quite natural,
and if they were talking about something, they made sure to inform me too.”
Back in Copenhagen and full of inspiration, Pade composed Symphonie Magnetophonique – the French title a nod to Schaeffer. An atmospheric 19 minute piece constructed to a 47 page score, it’s a sonic story describing 24 hours in the Danish capital through concrete and manipulated sound, starting with alarm clocks, synthesized humming (in the shower), the clanking of breakfast crockery, traffic noises and, as the day progresses, brass bands marching, children playing after school, up to the pleasures of the evening at concerts and the theatre, until the night goes quiet and you can hear lone footsteps; they’re followed by the printing of next day’s newspaper and finally birdsong. All the taped sounds are twisted, slowed down or sped up and fully abstracted, but the composition’s clear 24 hour narrative binds them together. Pade took inspiration from James Joyce’s 24 hour novel Ulysses, which had inspired a homage from Berio the same year. But the flow of Pade’s day is ruptured by soldiers’ marches, bombing and screams, reflecting her memories of the Second World War.
That same year, Syv Cirkler (Seven Circles) became Denmark’s first electronic piece to be performed on the radio. “It was received well. And then I thought, oh, Denmark is not so bad after all! But it was. Syv Cirkler was the most harmonic piece I have created in my life. It was quite mathematically built – whole notes, then half notes, then quarters and so on. Then the notes were driven around in circles and ended up into a point with reverb. They liked that.” She pauses for a moment before continuing. “Since then, there has been nothing they liked.”
Pade appears to have found more connections in the wider European artistic community outside Denmark. In 1958 she co-founded Aspekt, an organisation for experimental artists, film makers, poets, painters and composers, and invited international artists and composers such as Stockhausen to Denmark to give lectures. After befriending Stockhausen she visited the summer school for New Music at Darmstadt four times during the 1960s and early 70s, attending lectures by Ligeti, Boulez and Stockhausen himself. In turn, the latter used Pade’s 1960 composition Glasperlespill (Glass Bead Game) as an example of electronic composition in his lectures worldwide. In Glass Bead Game, she experiments with formal systems. The piece is inspired by the Hermann Hesse novel of the same name and is based on serial principles in which 12 tones are presented like marbles in a glass bead game consisting of pulsing clusters of electronic sound.
It’s this combination of the ethereal and the real, the electronic and the concrete, that is so compelling about Pade’s work. “The sounds outside became concrete music, and in the evening I could imagine that the stars and the moon and the sky uttered sounds and those turned into electronic music,” she enthuses. Her compositions evoke the magic of travelling through your own mental space. They often allude to the way children play and experiment through sounds of them singing in the distance, whistling or riding bicycles. As a listener I imagine Pade’s childhood bedroom as a springboard for the aural fantasies she was to create; a starting point for these journeys to other worlds.
Faust, her 1964 masterpiece in five parts, takes her listeners on a terrifying downward journey from heaven through damnation into a noisy hell, before ending on a single, quivering deathlike tone. The section “Margrethes Fordømmelse” (“Margrethe’s Damnation”) is stunning. The intensity of its long, intertwining pealing sounds anticipates music made more than a decade later by German composers such as Klaus Schulze or Conrad Schnitzler. When asked about her relationship to religion, Pade offers that her mother was a devout Christian with an interest in Catholic mysticism, and she is a Catholic herself. “Catholicism has exhibited a grandiosity in the face of mankind, for example through its many saints,“ she explains. “In Denmark we have no saints. But I think it’s so good that Catholics are not afraid to say, such and such was so fantastic – to lift an individual up as an example to others.”
Her work Face It, from 1970, is an immensely powerful anti-militaristic piece which served as a catharsis, or a Trauerarbiet – a work of grief – following her experiences during the war. A relentlessly stabbing and looping snare drum sound accompanies a male Danish voice repeating the mantra “Hitler is not dead, Hitler is not dead”, while samples of Hitler’s voice put through a vocoder bubble up threateningly, first as a tiny snippet, then in increasingly longer portions. Face It is the most confrontational and hard hitting of Pade’s compositions, sounding out an agitated and angry warning against fascism to future generations.
But Pade’s own battle against the artistic conservatism of Denmark wasn’t over. She fought to introduce Danish audiences to the European electronic music that she so admired from her experiences abroad. Meanwhile, at Danish Radio, she ignored the station’s conservative factions and carried on working alone. Other composers started using new music technology in the 1960s – Jørgen Plaetner, Per Nørgård and Bent Lorenzen, among others – but she never really became a part of the developing electronic music scene, partly because she was based at the radio and just didn’t move in academic composition circles. As a result, she lived in relative obscurity until a piece in a Danish music journal highlighted her life and work, and led to the aforementioned radio documentary about her in 2001, after which the Danish label Da Capo reissued a CD compiling some of her compositions. She also appears on the 2009 compilation, Pioneers: The Beginning Of Danish Electronic Music (Ljud). Now she is seen by Denmark’s electronic musicians as a grandmother figure.
But Pade is not ready to retire yet. She is working on a new piece related to birdsong. “Birdsong as voices,” she explains. “And then to combine these voices with electronic music so that they meet and part. I have a feeling that could be truly beautiful. I would want to use my tape machine,” she says, gesturing to the instrument in the corner.
“Most people in Denmark have an old-fashioned sentiment, I think. Even young people, because they often refer to pieces of music, romantic music, and they talk about craft and skill. But I think: so what? Craft has nothing to do with music!’” she exclaims.
Music has to do with ideas, I suggest. “Yes!” she agrees. “But they never talk about the head in Denmark! Never!” Else Marie Pade & Jacob Kierkegaard’s Svævninger is out now on Important. Special thanks to Thorbjørn Tønder Hansen
30 | The Wire | Else Marie Pade