Chimes of Memory
by Wayne Siegel
The artist’s name “Fuzzy” is a nickname that stuck, dating back to Jens Wilhelm Pedersen’s youth and referring to his untamed hair and beard. Today his hair is shorter and thinner and his beard more civilized, but few people know him by his given name. At 75 he is unquestionably still going strong as a composer of electronic music, instrumental music, film music and as a multi-instrumental jazz musician and improviser. Fuzzy is nearly always immersed in music, often working days and nights on end to finish a project in his electronic music studio in his home in Frederiksberg, just a stone’s throw from downtown Copenhagen. Here he rules like some musical bear in a luxuriant forest of computers, mixers, synthesizers, samplers and acoustic instruments. Sometimes debts of fatigue accumulated from burning the midnight oil must be settled in the form of catnaps at unexpected times and places. Once, during a mixing session at the illustrious Sweet Silence recording studio in Copenhagen, Fuzzy suddenly opened his eyes and said: “you forgot to turn up the cymbal in bar 17!” The producer turned to Fuzzy and remarked, “you’re right, but you were snoring at the time!”
Fuzzy’s approach to music has always been intuitive. He is fluent in improvising jazz, popular music and classical music and has never considered his varied musical taste to be a problem. He also has a more “serious” side as a composer. His most important teacher and mentor was Per Nørgård. Other important teachers include, Györgi Ligeti, Jan Bark and Witold Lutosławski. After studying briefly with Karlheinz Stockhausen in Darmstadt in the 1960’s Fuzzy became acutely aware that he was not a serial composer and never would be. Yet he knew that there was a lot of music in his head that he wanted to share with the world.
As a pianist and clarinetist he has performed widely with the Swedish/Danish multimedia group “The New Culture Quartet”. Other collaborations include a duo with the Danish popular singer, Povl Dissing and a duo with violinist John von Daler. Fuzzy has appeared on numerous television programs including his own featured children’s show, “Fuzzy’s Workshop”, a music appreciation and world music panorama. He has also composed a children’s opera, “The Fat Turkey” commissioned by the Royal Danish Opera with a libretto by Danish author and illustrator Rune T. Kidde.
In addition to orchestral, choral and chamber music, Fuzzy has composed a great number of electronic works, often in connection with ballets, plays, films and mixed media, including commissions from the Safri Duo, James Galway, New Jungle Orchestra, Copenhagen Art Ensemble, Contemporania and Trio Zoom. Fuzzy has worked with many film directors including Kaspar Rostrup, Jørgen Leth, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Jannik Hastrup and Bille August. He has composed a great many works for theater and worked with leading directors including Peter Kupke (Germany) and Johan Bergenstråhle (Sweden). His most extensive electronic work is “Catalogue”, a 12-channel musical decoration commissioned for the huge Atrium of the Royal Library in Copenhagen. The work consists of 52 sections, one for each week of the year, each inspired by an artifact found in the library. A section is presented every day via a permanently installed 12-channel speaker system designed specifically for this work.
Fuzzy has been awarded numerous prizes including The Danish Arts Foundation’s lifelong stipend and the Wilhelm Hansen Music Prize. In 1988 he was named the honorary artist of Frederiksberg. In 2010 Fuzzy was conferred knighthood of the order of Dannebrog by the Queen of Denmark for his outstanding contributions to Danish culture. Yet he is especially known and loved as a generous supplier of music by appointment to the people of Denmark.
The Notre Dame Trilogy was commissioned by the Danish organist and professor Grethe Krog for performance at the cathedral Notre Dame de Paris. The work was composed as three independent pieces, which were premiered on three separate occasions. Hearing his works performed on the beautiful organ in this awe-inspiring cathedral was for Fuzzy an important and intense experience. He decided to combine the three pieces under the title Notre Dame Trilogy. The entire trilogy was performed at Notre Dame on the occasion of Fuzzy’s 70th birthday in 2009.
In Cadences et tremblements à Notre Dame (2002) the composer exploits the unique sound of the instrument, with its many sound colors and huge dynamic range: from the most delicate pianissimo to a doomsday fortissimo. Musical quotes from the French national anthem La Marseillaise are interwoven in the piece; an idea that arose because the first performance took place on July 14th: Bastille Day.
Über allen Gipfeln (2003) is a runestone carved in memory of Fuzzy’s friend and colleague, Danish composer Tage Nielsen (1929-2003). The piece encompasses contrasting styles and evades classification within traditional music analysis. It moves from scene to scene and, like life, ends abruptly.
Contemplation d’un tableau de J. F. Willumsen (2006) is inspired by a painting by the noteworthy Danish painter Jens Ferdinand Willumsen (1863-1958). The painting Jotunheimen (1892-93) depicts the unusual and magical light and reflections characteristic of the Norwegian mountain, Jotunheimen. Especially the beginning of the piece is influenced by this unique painting that consists of a painted canvas surrounded by a carved wooden frame ornamented with zinc reliefs and embellished with enamel on copper. The piece was premiered at Notre Dame parallel with a Willumsen exhibition that was presented at the Pompidou Center in Paris.
B-Movies for harp and electronics is a dramatic work placed in a musical setting reminiscent of the cliché-ridden world of well-known B-movies. The soloist takes on various roles alternating between spectator and main protagonist. The composition falls into six uninterrupted sections with the illustrative titles: Cemetery with Bats; Suspense; Sofia Meets the Giant Frog; Escape in the House of Mirrors; Point of No Return, and Cartoon. The work was originally commissioned by Sofia Claro with support from the Danish Arts Foundation.
Chimes of Memory is an electronic work commissioned by the Danish Radio. In 1987 the Danish Radio acquired its first digital audio work station: the Waveframe. The system was essentially a large computer the size of a washing machine controlled by a separate desktop computer. It was much less powerful than what any small laptop computer is capable of today. But at the time it was a technological marvel waiting to be explored and put to artistic use, which Fuzzy was invited to set out to do. He started by recording the sounds of glass and balloons and editing these sounds on the Waveframe. A Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer was also used to create synthetic glass sounds that could be transformed and “morphed” into related sounds. The pervading mood is a dream-like setting with surreal, eerie chimes slowly evolving, only briefly and gently interrupted by sparkling rhythms. The work is far more than a curious dabbling with new technological developments.
Tre tilbageblik (Three Retrospects) for bass saxophone and electronics was commissioned by the Danish saxophone virtuoso Jeanette Balland. The electronics serve mostly as accompanying and contrasting elements in relation to the soloist. The work is in three movements. The first movement explores the musical possibilities of the enormous bass saxophone. A lively start and end surround a middle section with slow, sweeping soundscapes that create a dialogue with the soloist. The mood of the second movement is pensive. The soloist switches to the smaller, more expressive tenor saxophone. Analog synthesizer drones provide a backdrop, the voice of soprano Signe Asmussen presents a contemplative glimpse into the past, and the solo saxophone reveals an expressive, soulful tune. In the third movement the bass saxophone returns. The movement starts in a lively, bouncy mood that develops into free, explosive utterances before returning to its point of departure.
Stjerner over Københavns Forbrændingsanstalt or Stars above Copenhagen’s Waste Incinerator was inspired by something that has always fascinated the composer: garbage. Fuzzy had an image in his head of vast mounds of discarded junk piled up at the Copenhagen Incinerator with smoke rising from the chimneys and the moon reflected in puddles of oil. The work was produced using recordings of concrete sounds that were processed with various tape manipulation techniques including slow, fast and reverse playback. These techniques build on the composer’s work with the Nya Kulturkvartetten and were influenced by work at the San Francisco Tape Music Center. The source material consists mostly of junk instruments, including metal bowls that are tuned by filling them with water. Other sounds were made by playing a grand piano in untraditional ways. In a sense the piece is a wistful adieu to Fuzzy’s old Blüthner grand piano that was about to be replaced after many long years of loyal service and countless hours of joyous music making. A bittersweet tune is played in a more traditional manner on the dying Blüthner.
Wayne Siegel is an american composer who settled in Denmark. He became director of Denmark’s national electronic music center, DIEM, and in 2003 he was appointed professor of electronic music at the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus.