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volume 3
november 2000

Berlin '91: Impressions

Index of the journal Tracking  

  by Paul Friedlander
University of the Pacific Winter, 1991
  The Mortal Kiss — painting on the Berlin Wall by Dimitrij Vrubel (restaurated version)

A short account of the IASPM International Conference at the Humboldt University Conference Center, Berlin, 1991.

1 In July 1991, IASPM held its biennial International Conference at the Humboldt University Conference Center located in the (East) German countryside nearly an hour's drive from downtown Berlin — at the former training site for the East German secret police. I share my impressions of that conference not only to give you a sense of the gathering, but also to stimulate you to become involved in the American chapter's most important project since its inception. In July 1993, the U.S. branch will host the sixth International IASPM Conference. This will be a monumental undertaking, requiring the participation and wisdom of ALL of our members to do it well.
2 Buses transported jet-lagged participants from Berlin's Tegel airport to the conference. Along the way we passed one of the city's most impressive displays; a mile-long section of "the Wall" had been left standing for artists from all over the globe to paint their visions of peace and turmoil on 25-foot sections. My favorite was Leonid Brezhnev and Helmut Kohl french-kissing.
3 The conference's approximately 130 participants saw keynote and plenary speakers in a 200-seat hall resplendent with air conditioning vents at the top of each high-backed, cushioned seat. Every session had a translator — German / English or vice versa — and a full sound system — I was astounded by the presence of Meyer Sound speaker cabinets in all the meeting rooms, the same state-of-the-art American speakers used by the Grateful Dead.
4 I found the formal and informal exchange of ideas and ideologies to be stimulating and valuable. Some of my personal favorites were: Peter Wicke's discussion of the role of rock as a catalyst for change in Germany, Roger Wallis' re-evaluation of the importance of "secondary" — radio, publishing, etc. — music industry income, Ian Chambers' reframe of the center / periphery dialogue, Simon Frith's notion that the Beatles are part of today's soundscape, Bill Barlow's pinch-hit keynote devoted to rethinking our theoretical foundations and new definitions of hegemony and praxis, and a number of speakers who addressed resistance in popular music.
5 Each night two and sometimes three rock or fusion bands came to play in our dining hall after dinner. The beer was cheap and the participants were easy. We talked, talked and walked.
6 There were only nine Americans at the conference; colleagues simply couldn't afford to go. The second day of the Berlin conference, Simon Frith, chair of the Executive Committee, asked me to accept the position of Program Chair for the 1993 conference. Only with your active support will we make that conference a success. Come to Chicago, or call me and volunteer for one of the committees.
  This essay was published in: Tracking: Popular Music Studies,
vol. 4, no. 1 (Winter, 1991)
  1997 © IASPM / USA