From 1958 to 1959, Else Marie Pade collaborated with sound technician Sven Drehn-Knudsen from DR (Danish Broadcasting Corporation) to create the work Symphonie magnétophonique – a symphony for magnetic tape.
With Symphonie magnétophonique, Pade and Drehn-Knudsen's aim was to musically depict a day and night in Copenhagen, selecting a range of sounds one might hear during a 24-hour period in the Danish capital. Pade described the soundscape as “… snoring, alarm clocks, toothbrushing, and a whistling kettle – all familiar morning sounds. Then, we venture out into the world, to work, to Tivoli, to a restaurant, and back home to bed.”
Reportedly, James Joyce's modernist novel Ulysses (1922) provided inspiration for the work, offering a unique perspective into the various sounds that can be heard during a day in a metropolis.
Sound collage illustrating the day
Symphonie magnétophonique can best be described as a “musical” sound collage, unfolding a narrative that is intended to illustrate the day from morning to evening. All the sounds in the work are real-world sounds, such as cars, footsteps, and cooking sounds, the bells from the Copenhagen City Hall, typing sounds from a typewriter, and the daily radio news programme – sounds that are almost always subjected to some form of electronic treatment. The soundscape of Symphonie magnétophonique is also characterised by short musical quotations, such as fragments of classical music and a recurring flute melody.
Contrasting the humorous and slightly bizarre content, the title of Symphonie magnétophonique is rather pompous, giving the work an aura of grandeur and solemnity. However, upon listening to the piece, it becomes clear that the title should be understood as somewhat more down-to-earth: As a symphony of everyday sounds, captured on magnetic tape.
A cornerstone in Pade's oeuvre
Symphonie magnétophonique can be considered as a fusion of a narrative sound collage and musique concrète. With its extensive manipulations of its sound material and entire soundscape, the work is both humorous and entertaining, yet it also contains dramatic undertones. The overall expression is radical and insistent, and combined with the duality between music and narrative, it makes Symphonie magnétophonique a unique and distinctive work in Danish music history as well as a cornerstone of Else Marie Pade's oeuvre in the musique concrète tradition.