24th of July - Barack Obama's imaginary concert
Back in 1981 when the godfathers of emo carried white flags, I joined one of the biggest demo’s the Netherlands had ever seen: hundreds of thousands marched the streets of The Hague and protested against the neutron bomb. It felt like we the people really could influence politics. Similar protest marches were seen in West European capitals. Whatever the result of the protest was, the people also gathered in such huge masses because they were sick and tired of the cold war atmosphere.
Cold war ended in 1989. Now the godfathers of emo wear Gucci, and Bush and Blair have given us another cold war. In times of sloganism and endless zapping, of hyper realities and internet friendship, saturation is reached far more faster then in those days. Barack Obama carries a message of change and hope for a better and peaceful future.
When Obama came to Berlin I claimed his speech at the Siegessäule as a performance at the dkfrf. This news was read by maybe one hundred and sixteen persons. It didn’t shock the world. It was not my intention to shock the world. The evenings of dkfrf have an average attendance of thirty-eight persons. Maybe some of the possible thirty-eight went to see Obama, and thought of his talk as an imaginary concert. Wasn’t it a visionary who would talk, and wasn’t this vision one of a better world? Does a better world also sound better? Obama didn’t know he was playing at my festival: The letter I send him along with an english version of Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin was identified as a dangerous object by security.
I did record his rally. I walked from Unter der Linden U-station to the Pariser Platz, where I found a crowd gathered in front of hotel Adlon. I took position among the onlookers, convinced that they were waiting for Obama; it was 18.25. The speech would start at 19.00. I thought, well he will come out, step into the car, drive to the stage, do ‘toctoc’ on the microphone and say: ”Hello Berlin, my name is Barack Obama, I’m the next president of the United States.” At 18.45 I thought that Obama was living up to Berlin conditions and would start his performance half an hour later. At 18.48 I thought to hear crowd cheering in the distance. At 18.51 I finally realized what fool I had been and started walking towards the Brandenburger Tor, and from there, together with others, to the Siegessäule.
I recorded fragments with the inbuilt microphone of a cheap cassette Walkman. Longer pieces, like the mumbles of the waiting crowd, some police walkie-talkie messaging, the footsteps of the people walking towards the stage I recorded with a separate mini microphone of a very good cassette Walkman. As soon as I heard the voice above the sounds of the moving crowd – he thanked the Berlin fire brigade – I started to record my walk; It was my intention to get as near as possible. I started at approximately thirteen-hundred meters from the stage.
On my walk I first encountered little improvised beer and wurst stands, uncountable rows of people in front of me, building an impenetrable wall, TV-screens and a massive loudspeaker system. The road to the Siegessäule is slightly going downward, so everybody could look over everybody’s head. Over all those heads there was nothing that could lead to identifying Obama as a person existing in real life, holding a speech. Since I didn’t want to fill the tape with sounds coming from the loudspeakers, I decided to enter the park at the left side of the road, and continue my walk towards the source of it all.
Here I encountered individuals sitting on the green, solemn faces, drinking every word they heard. Then I thought of Jesus who after his talk did this wonderful thing with bread and fish. Now I think of habitants of this earth, who, by attending the rally, gave expression to their concern about the current political state of things. My Walkman recorded people walking by, the sounds of little branches breaking under my feet. I ended up at a point where I recorded the voice coming out of two different loudspeaker towers. The message was captured by a sonic whirlwind; the sounds that escaped the centrifugal power were not detectable any more as words.
I finished my walk at three steps from a policeman, who joyously asked me where I thought that I was going. I recorded the question, but I didn’t record my thought. I was joined by some young men who had no problems with the policeman’s wit, and even got a decent answer after four attempts to find out what those white tents were at the other side of the fence. From the answer I learned where Obama was to be found in the immediate hours before stepping up to the microphone.
Then I walked back through the centrifuge of sounds and recorded the end of Barack Obama’s performance.