In the fourth part of the EMP series, you'll discover four electronic compositions by Else Marie Pade, originating from the late 1950s and continuing into the following years. Syv cirkler (Circles of Sevenths) is considered Pade's electronic main piece, while Lys og lyd (Sound and Light) was crafted for a 'night concert' at Copenhagen's Falkonercenteret, where it intertwined with a 'light composition' by filmmaker Jens Henriksen. Just as in Pade's other works from that period, Etude I utilizes basic sound sources like sine tones and white noise, possibly influenced by Stockhausen. The world premiere recording on this album, Vikingerne (The Vikings), resulted from a collaboration between Henriksen and Pade in creating an educational film about Viking life.
'Return to us, untouched, the resonance of sound and light.'
By Jonas Olesen
Syv cirkler (Circles of Sevenths) (1958), despite its relatively short duration of just under 7 minutes, is often regarded as Else Marie Pade's electronic main work, still appearing modern and visionary to this day. The work was composed in collaboration with the DR (Danish Broadcasting Corporation) technician Sven Drehn-Knudsen, shortly after they had completed the ambitious musique concrète work, Symphonie magnétophonique .
Inspired by their visit to the 1958 World's Fair, Expo 58 in Brussels, Pade and Drehn-Knudsen crafted Syv cirkler.At the exhibition, alongside their DR colleagues, they immersed themselves in the latest musical developments while scouting music for an upcoming Danish radio series on electronic music titled MusicintheAtomicAge. In Brussels, Pade encountered her two major musical influences, composers Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and witnessed performances and lectures by luminaries like John Cage, Luciano Berio and Henk Badings. Pade described the overwhelming sensory experience as follows:
'Inside the exhibition, I simply had the shock of my life! The entire, enormous World's Fair was filled with experiments. Everyone was experimenting with everything.'
Pade and her colleagues also experienced the Philips company's specially designed pavilion, which later gained significance as an extremely important landmark in the history of electronic music. Designed by architects Le Corbusier and Iannis Xenakis, the pavilion featured a distinctive construction made up of a series of 'hyperbolic paraboloids', resulting in an incredibly futuristic look. Upon entering the pavilion, visitors were treated to an awe-inspiring multimedia performance centered around Poème électronique by Edgar Varèse, composed specifically for the pavilion. As a form of 'intermission music' for those entering and exiting the pavilion, Xenakis' Concret PH played through an impressive array of 425 loudspeakers.
However, it was another spatial installation at the exhibition that directly inspired Pade's Syv cirkler, namely the Vortex show by the American composer Henry Jacobs, which was presented in a planetarium. Here, artificial stars adorned a dome while electronic music filled the space through a multi-channel system. Pade would later reminisce:
'You could easily keep the stars apart, just like when you look at them in the real sky. They all looked the same, but they didn't clump together. They maintained their distance due to the acoustic placements of the speakers ... it kept going around in my head, and it dawned on me that it was all about circles. This is how the concept of delineating the seven spheres by assigning distinctive timbres and velocities to each of them was born.'
Upon returning to Denmark, Pade resolved that her next composition 'should have an astral quality', and she, along with Drehn-Knudsen, promptly embarked on the composition of Syv cirkler. In her subsequent reflections, Pade mentioned the work as a direct commission from Jacobs for a Vortex installation in San Francisco. However, it's probable that the inspiration for the piece preceded the commission. Regrettably, there is no available information regarding whether the composition was performed in the American Vortex installation.
From the score of Syv cirkler, p. 3 © Edition·S.
Syv cirkler follows a serial structure, with a sequence of seven tones explored, repeated in transposed variations, and continuously interwoven with new sequences. The piece's circular essence is clearly discernible through a pulsating and recurrent rhythm, distinguishing it from the typically more rhythmically abstract electronic music of its era.
The individual tonal motifs in the composition follow seemingly consistent durations, imparting a metric or sequential feel to the rhythm, despite being crafted from individual tones generated and spliced together on tape. At the outset, the tones are presented as single notes with intermittent pauses. After approximately a minute, rhythmic sequences of tones emerge, initially at a leisurely pace, later doubling in speed. In the middle section of the composition, a more abstract and arhythmic tonal material takes center stage, evoking the impression of tape-speed-altered trills, leading to fluctuations in pitch among the tones.
Syvcirkler can be characterised as being much more melodically driven than Pade's later electronic works, where tonal elements often appear more fragmented. The musical expression is marked by a cool atmosphere, where the circulating sequences of tones create an almost hypnotic effect. Originally, the plan was for the 'circles' to move in stereo, but technical limitations kept it in mono.
From the score of Syv cirkler, p. 22 © Edition·S.
In 1960, Pade composed Lys og lyd (Light and Sound) with text by Piet Hein (1905–1996) specifically for a 'night concert' at Falkonercenteret in Copenhagen, where it was presented alongside a 'light composition' by film director Jens Henriksen (1907–1995). Pade had become acquainted with Henriksen through Aspekt, an association for contemporary experimental artists founded in 1958 by Pade, the painter Martin Jepsen and the author Jørgen Nash. Pade had collaborated with Henriksen on multiple occasions. Lys og lyd was only a small part of a larger concert program that included more traditional music 'for the benefit of jazz musician Oscar Pettiford's (1922–1960) three surviving children'. Pettiford had died in Copenhagen just before his 38th birthday from a virus closely related to polio.
The composition, entirely electronic in nature, was diffused during the performance through an unknown number of speakers placed in the building. Henriksen's 'light composition' was 'closely tailored to the dynamics and movements of the music and was performed on a so-called 'light organ' by two lighting experts under Jens Henriksen's direction.' There is no further information available about this 'light organ' but the term may sound more advanced than what it actually was, likely referring to a specially employed permanent lighting system at Falkonercenteret for this occasion.
During the show, two narrators took their positions on either side of the stage and delivered Piet Hein's prologue, commencing with: 'Return to us, untouched, the resonance of sound and light. / Let us sense space and time – as if for the first time.' It concludes with: 'Recharge yourself. This is the now of creation, in which everything is new / Time moves on and lingers and lasts. The space resonates with sound. Listen!'
After the recitation, a stage curtain was drawn aside, the music started, and the 'light composition' was projected onto a canvas.
Hein's text delves into the theme of the 'resonance of light', highlighting the multimedia nature of the work. It's clear that the various elements – music, light, text – were designed to be encountered as a cohesive entity.
The piece commences with a sequence of very high-frequency sine tones accompanied by added reverberation, gradually descending in pitch. Subsequently, a set of intricate chords and a helicopter-like noise take center stage within the composition. Pade also introduces Morse code-like beeps, with their rhythmic pattern later echoing but with changing tones.
As the composition progresses, it shifts into more fragmented sounds with pauses interspersed. Lys og lyd culminates with a slow fade-out of low-filtered white noise. Expressively, the work carries a measure of drama with sporadic 'sudden' sounds. It should be approached with the awareness that it was conceived as a 'concert piece', where narration and the 'light composition' were integral elements, providing a contemporary listening experience with somewhat of a documentary quality.
In her piece Etude I from 1961, Else Marie Pade mainly utilizes filtered noise and layered sine wave chords as the central elements. The majority of the sounds in the composition are looped on tape with a gradual reduction in volume, resulting in a prolonged, echoing effect. They also carry a vibrato that doesn't come across as electronically generated but instead seems to have arisen from subtle interactions with the tape during playback. While a voice-like fragment briefly emerges at one point, it seems that concrete sounds were not extensively incorporated.
Just like in Pade's compositions from this era, she relies on the simplest sound sources: sine waves and white noise. The utilization of this minimal sound palette, along with the work's title, may hint at inspiration drawn from Karlheinz Stockhausen's earliest purely electronic pieces, such as Studie I (1953) and Studie II (1954).
From the score of Vikingerne, p. 8 © Edition·S.
Vikingerne (The Vikings) from 1961 was a collaborative project between Jens Henriksen and Pade, with the aim of producing an educational film on the lives of Vikings in the Nordic region. The Danish State Film Centre commissioned this film for educational settings, particularly schools.
Regrettably, the visual component of the film has been lost, leaving only Pade's electronic audio intact. This audio, rooted in the fundamental elements of 'classical' electronic music, relies on sine waves and white noise. With these basic tools, Pade constructs a diverse soundscape, featuring intricate chords created from sequences of sine waves, as well as punctual and sustained sounds generated by filtering white noise across various frequency bands. Unlike many of Pade's other works, concrete sounds are notably absent, except for occasional, heavily manipulated shouts, possibly from Pade's studio technician, making them challenging to identify. The audio serves a dual purpose, functioning as both atmospheric background music and a direct auditory complement to the film's narrative.
Pade described her approach in this manner:
'It was a truly exciting project because I had to immerse myself in a lot of information about the Vikings' lives, and while researching, I decided to divide it into various aspects of Viking life, such as hunting, fishing, farming, war, daily life, celebrations and religious rituals. It begins with tiny, prickling sounds all around, like tiny hammers pounding into the earth, representing their labor.'
The 'tiny, prickling sounds' Pade mentions are among the most prominent in the composition, giving it a character strongly reminiscent of granular synthesis, which uses microscopic sound units down to individual clicks and then assembles them into more complex sounds. One of the earliest examples of a composition using granular synthesis is Iannis Xenakis' Concret PH, which Pade encountered during her visit to Brussels in 1958, making it a potential source of inspiration.
Vikingerne starts with sustained sine tones that smoothly blend into each other, overlaid with low, 'rumbling' filtered white noise. This is followed by the punctual 'prickling' sounds, as if created by cutting small fragments out of longer sine wave and noise sequences. There are also accelerating and decelerating tones that both rise and fall in pitch and tempo simultaneously. Another sound phenomenon Pade employs is brief 'charging' outbursts, such as bursts of white noise that quickly increase in volume before 'discharging' into a short tone with reverberation.
Around the midpoint of the composition, the music transitions into a more reflective phase, marked by the gradual, sustained filtering of white noise, alongside the introduction of resonant tones and chords. These elements are likely intended to replicate the sound of waterfalls, as Pade has elaborated:
'We also simulated the sounds of waterfalls to accompany scenes of fishing and harpooning, all electronically generated. In order to depict their celebrations, we incorporated drum-like sounds, also generated electronically, which grew increasingly intense.'
The drum-like sounds of celebrations and religious rituals are generated using filtered white noise and abrupt sine wave chords, presenting a distinctly non-naturalistic quality. Regardless of the visual component's absence, one can envision that these electronic reproductions might have appeared quite surreal. However, it's possible that the core idea behind the music was to avoid attempting to replicate something deemed as authentic 'Viking music'. Instead, they opted for a contrasting approach by commissioning a composer to craft an entirely synthetic auditory environment.
If we separate the piece from the idea of it accompanying a visual component, it can be easily seen as a purely musical composition. The illustrative sounds are skillfully woven into the composition. However, from a formal standpoint, listening solely for musical pleasure might present some difficulties, given the highly abstract progression and the potential disconnect between the illustrative sounds and the more atmosphere-setting tonal elements.
From Pade's perspective, the purpose of strong sonic integration may have been an effort to create a unified auditory landscape that challenges the more conventional cinematic approach, where music and ambient sounds often exist on separate layers. As a result, one can choose to experience the piece as presented and recognise it as a captivating sonic universe with substantial musical qualities.
Jonas Olesen is an electronic composer, sound artist and writer. He is the author of Pionerer & outsidere – Dansk elektronisk musik 1928-1980 (Pioneers & Outsiders – Danish Electronic Music 1928-1980) (Multivers, 2022). The program note is based on the chapter about Pade in this book.
Various sources alternate between the titles Syv cirkler and 7 cirkler. In a sketch or technical report from October 17 (year unspecified), the work is titled Circles of Sevenths (EMP Archive Edition·S). This sketch was subsequently published as a score by Edition·S in 2017. Presumably, the English title was intended for the Vortex commission. It remains unclear why Pade did not translate the title directly as Seven Circles, but given the work's utilization of sequences of seven tones, Circles of Sevenths can be considered a more precise title. Additionally, there is some variation among different sources regarding the titles Lys og lyd and Lyd og lys. It's worth noting that Pade herself inscribed Lys og lyd on the cover of the tape recording.