I think my love for pyro began very early in life. As a child, I remember blowing up the airplane models I built with firecrackers, and I also remember getting very excited by the band KISS after I bought their ALIVE II album in 1977 and saw an amazing picture of the band onstage surrounded pyrotechnics and flames! I knew at that moment I wanted to do just that! In 1980, I had the opportunity to see them live in Holland and they really blew me away!
My pyro dreams began to become fully realized in 1988 when some friends of mine in a rock band wanted some onstage pyro accompaniment during one of their shows. I bought a 2-way Le Maitre firing system and shot some smoke bombs, jets and fountains. I had to change the effects several times during the show, though, because I had only 2 pods.
A year after that, a friend of mine built me a 20-channel firing system. Now, I had the power to do bigger and better things! Also, the band I was working with got booked to do bigger shows, and they wanted larger, more awe-inspiring effects. I was happy to comply. More bands hired me after that because they all wanted stage pyrotechnics in their shows, and I was having the time of my life!
As I became more involved with stage pyrotechnics, I realized that there was a fireworks company right in my own town. I called them up and talked to them about what I had be doing and I wound up helping assist them by doing my first-ever New Year’s Eve show.
The company I worked for as a freelancer was called “SKYLIGHT fireworks,” and I did quiet a few shows for them. The biggest show I was involved in (which was an annual show) was a the Nijmegese Vier Daagse, which was shot from a large boat in the middle of a river, and the Scheveningen International Fireworks Festival (which is kind of funny because when we started, we shot all the shows ourselves because there were no other countries involved!). I also went to Tarragona, Spain to the Tarragona International Fireworks Display Competition so SKYLIGHT fireworks could compete. This is a very prestigious event in Europe, and although we didn’t win, it was a great experience.
One of the coolest pyro-related things I ever did while I was in Holland involved a course I was teaching in leadership for Landmark Education. I had to come up with a specialized project for that course, and I had just seen a television program about how hearing-impaired individuals could enjoy music by feeling the vibrations in the floor. That got me to thinking about the visually impaired. People who are blind tend to hate fireworks. In fact, the closer it gets to New Year’s Eve, the less they go outside because kids shooting fireworks in the streets startle them and their guide dogs. So, I wondered if I could change that.
Since there was a blind individual living nearby me, I asked him if I could interview him regarding fireworks. He agreed and what I discovered while talking to him was that when fireworks are coupled with music, he actually enjoyed them—especially when the fireworks loudly punctuated climactic points in the music itself.
That became the foundation of my project: a pyromusical for the blind; a project full of creative ideas specifically designed to meld the sounds fireworks make with music. I called a company I knew in Holland that specialized in choreographing pyromusicals— De Koster Pyro—for help.
And together we chose Feuerwerksmusik, the “Music for the Royal Fireworks,” written by Händel as our basic thematic music.
We also decided what was needed most for this type of show was fireworks that made a variety of noises. Fireworks like whistling fountains, crackling fountains and booming firecrackers. In addition, we thought it was important to include things you could feel (in a safe way) like the heat from flame projectors, confetti airbursts and aromatic smells of vanilla or strawberry that could be made come out of smoke machines.
Contrary to what you might you might think, we decided this fireworks event should be an indoor pyromusical—one you could hear, feel and smell (all three would have been difficult outside).
Since the course I was teaching would be over in 3 short months, I had to put this together quickly and I needed an effective way to invite a large number of visually impaired individuals to the show. I began by calling institutions that provide education and instruction to the blind and offered them invitations, but when the media got wind of our project, our necessity to advertise became immediately unnecessary. Suddenly, we were being interviewed on the radio, interviewed in the newspaper and even had a TV interview on a nationally televised show watched by millions of people.
On the day of the show, around 300 visually impaired people showed up to hear, smell and and feel our pyromusical. We played to a completely full house, and the show was well received and enjoyed by everyone. Newspaper reviews of our event were excellent, too, and there was even video footage of our show on the evening news. The entire experience proved to be amazing. How often do you have the opportunity to see one of your ideas grow into a popular event?
In 2003, I moved to Sweden. Since I didn’t really know anybody there, I began to look around to see if I could use my hobby to make a little extra money.
I always enjoyed working at concerts as a lighting technician, so I contacted Live Nation Swedish and got a job working on one of their local crews. After 1 year I became a “crew chief” and did that quite often for fun and extra money.
At the moment, I live in Gothenburg on the west coast of Sweden. There is a company here called “The Gothenburg Fireworks Factory” (Göteborgs Fyrverkeri Fabrik, or GFF), and I contacted them when I first got here, but they didn’t have any work for me. Sweden is a kind of paradise for fireworks enthusiasts because you can buy them all year round. Since I think every birthday party or holiday needs fireworks, I visited that company quite often. After about a year, the factory asked me to help them with one of their New Year’s Eve shows, and after that, other pyrotechnic jobs came my way. Since I’ve always liked doing indoor pyro, it was an excellent way for me to begin, and many people learned I had pyrotechnic capabilities as I helped them do shows.
In my “normal” life in the past, I was a newspaper printer, and I did that job for 17 years in Holland and then in Sweden for 5 years working for a large newspaper operation in Gothenburg. After 5 years, however, primarily due to the economy, I had to find other employment. Fortunately, the Gothenburg Fireworks Factory was looking for a fulltime employee. Misfortune quickly turned into luck, and I was hired immediately.
Together with my colleague, Ingemar, we’re responsible for a lot of the firework productions our company produces. Generally, we get a list of what is necessary, and then we outline much of the entire show. Some shows we create require over 4000 different effects! Of course, we don’t work by ourselves. Right now there are 5 fulltime employees that work at GFF (Göteborgs Fyrverkeri Fabrik), and this is how the work is divided: Martin Hilderberg, our boss, does the
designing for our pyromusicals, Susanne, does most of our outdoor fireworks, Maria is responsible for administration and then there is Ingemar and me.
Since New Year’s Eve is such a busy time for us, we also employ about 40 freelancers to help us out doing the numerous New Year’s Eve shows we produce. It is important to note that GFF in Sweden works much differently than I was used to in Holland. Here, they shoot almost every show using firing systems. In Holland, I’d say at least 80% of the shows are shot by hand.
Our company also creates and choreographs a great many elaborate pyromusicals (Martin’s specialty) as well as arena shows like the closing pyromusicals done after the motor speedway Grand Prix. I love helping with these Grand Prix shows, they are always a lot of fun and the kickass response you get from the audience leaves you feeling accomplished. For the last 5 years I’ve gotten to fly to Wales to do our biggest show in front of a crowd of 45,000 people. They go nuts there after they watch one of our pyromusicals, and it always leaves me feeling great afterwards.
My boss, Martin, also loves to compete in firework competitions. Because he is so talented (and obsessed with perfection) we’ve won the Swedish Pyromusical Competition 10 years in a row!
Some jobs, of course, turn out to be unforgettable experiences. The 2010 pyromusical we did in Montreal when we won silver was one such job for me. Also, the 2009 show in Knokke when we won gold in the International Fireworks Festival Knokke-heist was memorable. Other great experiences I’ve had: The opening pyromusical for the ABBA museum in Stockholm when I got the chance to talk to Björn from ABBA about fireworks, and our show in Shanghai in 2011 when we shot one of our best shows ever. Big isn’t always what pyrotechnics is about, though, because I thoroughly enjoyed the small, onstage show we did for Snowy Shaw this year that ended up on his DVD.
In 2015 we’ll be going back to Hannover to enter a pyromusical competition there for the very first time. Then it is off to the Philippines for the PIPC in February, and many more shows after that throughout the year.
Most of what I design now for GFF is the smaller indoor shows, and I’m pretty much given a free hand in how it looks. I’d have to say, overall, I love working for GFF. Like a wise man once said: “If you find a job you love, you never have to work a day in your life.”
So, lets give them a show to remember.