Symposium Potsdam: The Story of the Speaking City by Yossi Mar-Chaim

The Road To Damascus Gate. It all started with a strange meeting in a Tel Aviv café with an enthusiastic professor who, so it seems, never lost his curiosity for new places and new attitudes. When talking and preparing to go to the beach, I suddenly heard a voice of a radio announcer back in 1946 – an illegal broadcast under British regime that said every day at 6 o’clock in the evening: “this is Jerusalem speaking”. When I told Prof. Engelbert about that voice he lit up, and I knew, before I saw or heard any sound, that the project is on, happening right now, being edited in my mind. Right from the start I knew that in the frame work of the photos and sounds in my disposal would be limited and would need a lot of additions. As I quote from my abstract: “How can a city speak or make itself sound? What may those sounds be? And who is to listen to them? What are the imaginary assumptions of those who walk the road to this critical vocal point (in this case, the students)? Do they have to weigh and consider the historical and political issues that inhabit every pace, any movement between the old and the new city” On one hand, there was the fixed methodology of the seminar ,common to all visits in different cities, a project that is built upon staying for a week or two in which the seminar senses the city and documents it. Not too much history and geography, no prior knowledge of the political fatal under- currents that come from the inherent state of total inequality between the two cities – the old and new Jerusalem. There are facts I found much later about the Gate itself in Christian theology and in apocalyptic Jewish writing, facts I decided to ignore since I already stated to add sounds from our present. I added a lot of indoor sounds, especially middle eastern music of all kinds, radio and prayer music. I had enough of traffic sounds: but I added sounds from the Wailing Wall, sounds of political demonstrations and more street conversations that might have been recorded if the microphones would have stationed closer and deeper in the street. After a month I had 30 channels which I – with the help of my son, Guido, a video and music editor – limited into 6 stereo channels to fit a multi-layered structure DVD surround program of 25 minutes. Then I discovered that without a visual focus my plan will not have a center, an ideal Place to listen. My sound equipment demands had to include 3 video monitors which will create a circle. But I did not have video material, only still photos. So we came to the idea of concentrating on 24 hours, from which 120 photos would be shown in 10 second intervals. This minimal approach, sometimes, gave the notion that nothing is happening, so it needs more concentration effort from the viewers. I felt that, visually, I showed complete loyalty to the original research of the students. Equipped with a lot of materials and a lot of fears and suspicions I came to Berlin. In the past, I had a lot of bad experience with ordering electric equipment, and Many times I was to blame, being unable to specify my needs in foreign languages. But – not this time. Arthur was more than a perfect host, putting me in a hotel near the “Sabine Platz”- my most favorite Berlin sight. After 2 hours we were in the university and I met the students.Headed by Sebastian, every body worked like crazy to prepare the sight. My team had to comply with my demands which included 3 identical monitors and 6 speakers. Everybody was so helpful I was really embarrassed. And a small world – 2 of the participants worked in the hostel in Israel where my younger son is living. After 3 days of lot of trial and errors we created the circle, and in the middle of the circle – one chair that marked the Locus – the ideal place to sit, watch and listen. When Arthur sat there for some minutes I knew I delivered what the seminar wanted – a unity of sound and sight, the portrait of the Speaking city. My presentation was broadcasted over the internet, and quite miraculously- my son saw it in Israel, and recorded most of it, until the connection fell. After the presentation I was lucky to spend time and tour Berlin for 3 days with 3 leading architects. Mr. Lerman , Professor Efrat, and Mr. Gabay their way of looking at Berlin’s architecture was an eye opener for me. I saw an audio video festival with Arthur, and the next morning, true to his hosting way, he took me to the airport. For me it was a magic week  – Yossi Mar-Chaim

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