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by Asger Schnack

Information, Dec. 22, 2023
(A rough Google translation from Danish into English.)

When Torben Ulrich wrote in Information, he brought his articles by bicycle, but not only that, he cycled all the way up to the editorial offices on the 4th floor with what he had written, cf. Ernst Nielsen's famous photograph, and which we readers of Modern Times eagerly awaited. "Our man in the USA", as he was called. His articles were diary leaves, poetry, linguistically improvised, deeply wondrous texts, essays, it would be called, if they were not beyond all genres and beyond all determination.

This also applied to Torben Ulrich himself. He was beyond any definition and beyond all genres, understood as job titles or areas in which he worked as a master. He was everything, he mastered so many areas of life in such a deep and playful and real way that to understand him and his meaning it is necessary to see all these sides of his work at the same time, as a unit, a complete picture, which, however, will not possibly settle down and be the whole picture. All the time, new facets appear, new glimpses.

He sat on the floor. He didn't use chairs. He was a sage. But within this sage, all the manifestations were in one and the same breath: the tennis player who had his Buddhist answer to competitive mentality and who-is-best, the young Torben Ulrich who played the clarinet at a jazz club in Copenhagen, the jazz critic or in a better word: the jazz door opener who wrote in the newspapers and magazines, the dancer, I mean: the dancer of life, the painter with alternative brushes, the philosopher, the Kandinsky connoisseur, the connoisseur.

Torben Ulrich was born in 1928, grew up in Hellerup and made his mark on tennis courts in Denmark and later around the world, moved to the USA as a professional tennis player, but he brought the latest jazz records home in his suitcase when he visited Copenhagen and his friends there in Copenhagen's poet and musician milieu. He edited the journal Bazar (1958-59) together with Jørgen Gustava Brandt and Bengt Janus and printed haiku poems in his own translation. Before the world's turn in the home.

The first haiku poem in the suite was called "The Buddha figure": "Out of the nose / of the great Buddha flew / a swallow." (Poet unknown.) He thus provided the public with an early insight into the still life and poetry as a way of life. And with his versatility, he inspired a new generation of poets who all saw him as a figure in the broadest sense to follow: Hans-Jørgen Nielsen, who debuted with a book of haiku poems, Jørgen Leth, who filmed Torben Ulrich, Dan Turèll, who declared him as a role model.

His tennis career, which took the road over Wimbledon, merged with his philosophy, which was originally a philosophy of the ball, the philosophy of the senses, the reception, the perception, the slide, with a weighty bank of knowledge built in from Western and Eastern tradition. He worked for many years on a summary that was published in book form in 2018 with the title “Eyes of the Ball, Bones of Being: Notations along the divisive ways of athletics”. Like everything he wrote, the book is difficult to reference, with poems on one side and thoughts on the other.

He also published the slender, English-language poems in column form in independent volumes, which are linked at once to the aforementioned philosophy and to musical contexts with various avant-garde jazz groups, live and on record. Two volumes were published: "Terninger, tonefald" (2005) and "Stilhedens cymbaler" (2007), both with an afterword and foreword respectively by Lars Movin. A special musical collaboration was the cross-generational and beautifully recurring one, over a number of years, with the pianist Søren Kjærgaard.

Here to mention the magnificent ones, titled "Suddenly Sound: 21 songlines for piano, drainpipe, etc." (2009) and "Alphabet, Peaceful, Diminished: 29 Proposals from the Towers of Babble" (2010) as well as, not at least, "Meridiana : Lines Towards a Non-local Alchemy". The latter was released in 2014 in 300 copies on vinyl, each with its own unique cover, all of which were parts of an original Torben Ulrich painting, created on the floor in a spontaneous improvisation, which now hides in the record racks of the happy listeners, and for each time can be drawn forward.

This collaboration, and Torben Ulrich's sound poems and sound contributions in close accordance with Søren Kjærgaard's music, are at once Dada and post-Dada, rupture and connection, with time as the supporting element, past, future, but above all present, an eternal now, which vibrates in the voice, which is also heard on Torben Ulrich's last musical collaboration, this time with cellist Lori Goldston, the digital album "Oakland Moments: Cello, Voice, Reuniting (Rejoicing)" with texts read by Torben Ulrich.

The best thing to do is to seek out these publications and listen to a world understanding. And when I now also mention the following book titles, it is like an invitation to read the books and learn more about both Torben Ulrich and what the books are about. First the large collection "Jazz, ball & Buddhism" (2003) and subsequently "An alarm clock in Cecil Taylor's grand piano – texts on jazz, 1945-2005" (2018), both edited by Lars Movin, and finally the conversation book "Udspi"l (2004) – also with Lars Movin.

When you write about Torben Ulrich as I do here, it is difficult not to add a personal angle, because Torben Ulrich as a person was so open and welcoming to everyone he met, adults as well as children, artists, non-artists, friends or those who became it, far as near. I met him after having known him as a public figure for many years, and the meeting turned into several meetings of the greatest importance. I visited him in San Francisco, and I met him and performed with him in Copenhagen and in Lemvig.

He could begin the day with a sentence which got tangled up and disappeared for many hours later to suddenly appear in a continuation of the thought he was present with, carried by humor and surprising sentence formations. He knew Charlie Parker's solos by heart, and he knew everything about Patti Smith and anyone in the world of art and the moment. His motto in practice was love. There are many of us who today think of him with gratitude as the amazing man he was. A wealth that is now a memory.