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A Postcard From Berlin

In the ten years since the European AES Convention last visited Berlin, the city has thrived.

FRANK WELLS In the ten years since the European AES Convention last visited Berlin, the city has thrived. The divisions of East and West, once a fairly obvious contrast with institutional and starkly functional architecture on one side and contemporary on the other, even after reunification, have blurred over the years since the destruction of the Berlin Wall. Events and other recognition noting the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall abounded around the city in late April.

A short distance from the city center at the Estrel Hotel and Convention Center, the 136th AES Convention attracted over 1,200 attendees, more than doubling last year’s conclave in Rome. The convention was true to a proven form, the primary draw being the diverse technical program—four packed days of workshops, tutorials, technical papers and poster sessions, and a number of special events. Wieslaw Woszczyk of Mc- Gill University, Montreal, QC, Canada, a former AES President, gave the opening keynote address, beginning with a warning that acknowledged the rapidity of change in our industry. Observing that even though sound moves at 700 meters per second, he countered that “by the time my words reach the back of the room, they may no longer be true.” Weislaw’s talk traversed the history of recorded sound, from its most humble beginnings to today’s creations that are instantly shared around the world.

Highlights of Wieslaw’s talk included playing the ultra lo-fi, earliest-known recording, made by Parisian printer/bookseller Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville in 1860 (you could just tell that it was meant to be music). Although it was the first recording, it could never be played back until recently, when advances in optical technology made it possible.

At the other end of the spectrum, Wieslaw examined Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” noting that at wearehappy. com, there are more than 1,400 different videos of the song coming from more than 130 countries, all united in their expression of happiness and joy inspired by music and dance. Underscoring that while playing back a “Happy” video shot in Berlin, Wieslaw briefly cut loose on stage with dance moves that got the audience going and brought applause.

Acknowledging that the variety of playback options and implementations of audio delivery technologies still make things difficult for the average user, Wieslaw challenged the audience, saying that it was up to them and the greater pro audio community to make that technology easy to use and convenient for the consumer.

A convention mainstay, the AES Student Party, is a varied affair that has packed studios and saw a gathering at the foot of an historic monument last year in Rome. This year’s gathering was held at the almost ridiculously fashionable nHow Hotel and Studio, complete with beats performed by industry notable David Miles Huber. Upstairs, the hotel’s studio, seemingly not a space for recording music other than electronica and more designed to serve as a cool vibe party location (albeit complete with a 48-channel SSL Duality SE and noteworthy client list), is bizarrely cantilevered above a pink-lit ice skating rink on the roof of a lower hotel section. The bank of the adjacent Spree River is lined with decorated sections of the largely gone Berlin Wall. A couple of blocks away stands a preserved section of the Wall, now turned into a mural-covered outdoor art gallery.

While the exhibits area was admittedly small, the 30-exhibitor count was still 30 percent higher than the Rome convention and the exhibitors seemed genuinely happy to be involved. One that was contacted for comment after the convention told the AES that they found “a new energy and focus” in the AES and the convention, also citing a known strong point of the AES conventions: “Best of all, it was a pure audio industry occasion!”

The second-largest national representation in the attendee statistics after Germany was Poland. Fitting, as the announcement was made by AES executive director Bob Moses that the next stop for the annual convention will be Poland in May of 2015.