For Release: April 2, 2008
AES GOES EUROPE
by Peter K.Burkowitz
The following text was published in the AES Journal Special Issue on the occasion of the 50th jubilee of the Audio Engineering Society.
Sometimes it is a personal affair that makes the kick, so to say. The affair, in my case, was a trip in 1960 to see colleagues and talk technical business at Capitol Records in Hollywood, LA. It was my first overseas journey and, at that time, not that simple. Apart from a painstakingly inquisitive visa a special note of confirmation from the hosts was required, and the DM-to-Dollar ratio was still 4 to 1. And, I came from a country that in recent history just had not left too much of good impressions, to put it mildly. Moreover, I came from a country where engineering perfection was traditionally cultivated like a national addiction, and where it could easily happen that, being on good terms with competing experts, was most likely misunderstood for spilling the beans. Thus, engineering work had traditionally been a matter of „closed“ operations. In particular, disk record engineering was kept under cover to an extent as if it was a first grade state secret. The renowned scientist Prof.Dr.Barkhausen, had made a good point to that when he, in delivering an opinion before court in 1933, cited Prof.Dr.Erwin Meyer, inventor of, a/o., the Light-Bandwidth measuring method, stating that: * „... the Gramophone industry, instead of making their technical working methods subject to systematic research and truly professional engineering, has exerted a totally shielded existence and for long times persisted in an enviously closed trial-and-error manner ...“
The „kick“ happened when, days later and having safely arrived in „the country of unlimited possibilities“, the unforgettable Ed Uecke showed me around at Capitol´s and introduced me to an LA AES-Section meeting. To make the subsequent long story short: there was no jealous shielding, no electroacoustical state-secrets, no mistrust, and no stuck-up attitudes. From the very outset I was given the impression to be part of the game. This, and the at that time incomparable variety of technical product and information was it what made me, upon return home, refreshing aims how the somewhat arky professional environment in Good Old Europe could possibly be influenced towards more openness, and how internationally available knowledge could be made easier accessible. Or, still better, couldn’t this AES which I just had met in the States be expanded into Europe, or even worldwide?
To be fair, such aims had not been genuinely new insofar as already earlier, from 1953 on when I had joined the German branch of EMI, I had met a number of others, mostly delegates to nationally oriented technical committees, some of whom shared the same desire for widening the professional engineering horizons.
On the international scene it was an early post-war, high-class experts gathering on key standardization topics which took place in s´Hertogenbos/Netherlands. There I met Johan L. Ooms of Philips Phonographic Industries, who not only had similar ideas but already was in the course of preparing adequate policies to „bring the both worlds together“. To achieve that, Joe, like myself an old AES member, was about to form volunteer groops for possible AES activities in Scandinavia, Great Britain and on the Continent. As a supplimentary step, and encouraged by AES officials to provide more first-hand information on what is going on in Audio in Europe, he organized add-ons to the forthcoming AES conventions in New York and Los Angeles. His ideas practically boiled down to „Audio Abroad“ sessions that first materialized in New York 1968. The reaction of attendees on these special items was very promising and proved that a desire for „international audio engineering penetration“ was evident.
The Scandinavian group under the heading of Erik R. Madsen (B&O) was formed in 1969, and by 1970, after years of preparatory work headed by John Gilbert, John Maunder and Percy Wilson, a British Section was formally established.
In order to get things moving on the continent as well, Ooms, meanwhile appointed AES Liaison Officer Europe, decided to initiate a try in an area of adequate engineering density. In consequence, he approached Wilhelm Franz, owner of EMT-Franz, for possible help. Franz did the best he could in that he, on recommendation of Ooms, asked Karl O.Bäder, one of Franz´ leading engineers, to engage in the envisaged actions. „Karlo“, as we called him, then contacted a number of people he knew would like to join the move. Which included myself as Ooms had alerted me in advance about his intents.
The meeting concerned took place in Frankfurt a.M. in 1970, and brought together six people who already knew each other from various occasions. These were:: (alphabetically, and at that time affiliated to): Karl O. Bäder of EMT-Franz, Klaus Bertram of Radio-Bremen, Ernst-Jo.Völker of Hessischer Rundfunk, and Klaus J.Wischgoll of E.Beyer, Heilbronn, plus Joe Ooms and myself.
The meeting ran as extended as fruitful. After lengthy discussion about the various thinkable „how to..´s“, I proposed that the most efficient way to make the AES known to a wider European audio community surely would be to organize a convention in Europe similar to those in New York or Los Angeles, and that it should preferably be located such as to attract the largest possible number of potential attendees.
The consensus on this proposal was unanimous and, as was to be expected, soon yielded the question „who does it?“ Since, at that time, an organization like AES was taken synonymous with hardware topics only, and because of his reputation in electronic and equipment engineering, Bäder was addressed first. But Karlo, seeing a possibility of conflicting interests with other equipment making AES members, proposed to vote for me since, as a record man, I was in a less competing position. So, all others seconded. Surely of help in this context was that I already had lasting AES experience, good international contacts and a large, highly esteemed employer behind me.
Joe Ooms then introduced Herman A.O.Wilms and, suggested that he joined the crew, particularly to deal with the foreseeable quantities and complexity of administration, logistics and public relations. Herman was teacher at a Brussels engineering college and, as it soon became evident, brought with him a wealth of talents for the work to be done. The history of meanwhile 27 years AES in Europe has given proof that Joe Ooms´ recommendation was more than justified. Another person of high merits must be mentioned here and that is Titia Bakker, then Joe Ooms´secretary
In later routine with the early team and Herman Wilms it were her creative views and critical attention that often helped putting loose ends together. Without both and their unselfish loyal disposition much of the now regular proceedings may unlikely have been established, particularly so in the years when the first successful conventions in Europe had passed but no secure professional structure was yet achieved upon which to found the following venues. And there were many in the pipeline. But let’s first briefly review the first steps.
After agreement was reached during the Frankfurt meeting about the basic strategies, each one of us started on a certain part of a job, the essentials of which were to found a membership framework and at the same time prepare a first European convention. Creating a framework for membership was necessary anyhow. So far there was nothing. Members outside the US had to refer directly to the main office overseas. But, with the strong increase of applicants hoped for by virtue of the whole endeavor, some locally available organizational structure was felt to be indispensable. So, an idea was in demand how to shape and name a first local membership structure. Again, the solution was sought for in teamwork, and it boiled down to the formation of a regional rather than a local or national section, because, from the very beginning, I was interested just at the starting phase not to make it a national affair. This the more so, as all these activities could easily have been kept for a purely German undertaking since the acting crew, in the earliest state, was in fact plain German.
The answer on the organizational issue was to right away install a regional framework, and I suggested to call it „Central Europe Section“ (CES). Thus, room was left for all who should feel invited in this willfully virtual geographical area. Karl O. Bäder with his office at EMT W.Franz in Lahr, Black Forest, took over as V.C. and Secretary, taking care for this first structural nucleus of AES in Europe. The existence of an office and a dedicated man behind it proved very helpful in the furtherance of both membership acquisition & service and preparation of a convention. In the further offices, Ernst-Jo. Völker took over for Treasurer and Organization, Klaus Wischgoll for Committee Man and Exhibition, 1972/73 for Treasurer, and Klaus Bertram for Committee Man and Papers. The allocation of duties in the first years did not strictly follow the established model rather than was orientated along feasibility and requirements for both CES and conventions. With the appearance of Herman Wilms and Titia Bakker CES business then was gradually shifted to Brussels and Baarn which, after withdrawal of Titia in 1987, amalgamated into the later on formally established Europe Region Office.
With the formal establishment of the Central Europe Section the AES members from Benelux countries, Austria and Switzerland joined. The national Contact Officers, H.A.O.Wilms for Benelux, B.A.Weingartner for Austria and W.Prautsch of Switzerland became members of the CES Board.
While the formation of the CES was soon approved by the Board of Governors in October 1970, the idea of a convention in 1971 could not be moved as the time left for the processing of application, scrutiny and decision was much too short. We therefore decided to go ahead on own risk, as we were convinced of the incomparable soliciting power of a convention, be it even of smaller size.
As to the first convention we concluded that, in view of the circumstances given, a location within the initial geographical confines would just be a matter of reason. In particular, the facility to be selected should have just the right size and be sited within convenient reach of those of us, who will be the most absorbed by running the event. It must be borne in mind that, at that time, it was way out to think of hiring a professional convention & exhibits crew. Each and anything had to be done by the volunteers. Thus, our choice was the Esso Motor Hotel in Cologne which I personally was well acquainted with from my stay with the German EMI branch Electrola. Furthermore, Cologne is a very attractive city and within easy reach from the more densely populated areas of northwestern Europe.
During preparation of the Cologne convention an unexpected stumbling block occurred which may be worth remembering: Since the „AES“, at that time in Europe, was kind of a "nobody" and even did not avail of any valid documents that could prove it’s existence legally, the hotel management, though of course pleased with the business in view, asked for some pre-cash which, naturally, none of us was prepared to pay. And Headquarters could not help either since a convention in Europe was not yet officially sanctioned. Rescue, eventually, came through an initiative by Karlo Bäder, who managed to „loosen“ six thousand DMarks from the Studer company and thus decidedly helped to get the whole thing on rails.
When it finally happened, the first convention in Cologne 1971 was the success we had hoped for. With a European membership at that time of 250, an attendance at the convention of 210 from 16 countries and 12 exhibitors on 100 sq.meters from 6 countries, that was about the most we could have expected. And with particular attention we saw a remarkable number of members and interested experts who never before would have made a personal appearance, as the AES had so far not been within their geographical reach.
As we had hoped, the membership figures followed suit. With just 80 registered members in total Europe 1967 through 120 in 1970, a sudden swing up to 250 was obviously triggered by the Cologne convention. And many voices that favored continuation were heard throughout the first event We took this as a safe proof that the strategy engaged was right. Though, originally, we had estimated one convention every second year only, this positive resonance caused us to revise the concept and immediately commence the planning for the next one.
Cologne was a good location for the North of Europe. This time, we chose to set a sign for the southern areas. Hence, as site for the second convention we agreed on the town of Munich, again unanimously. Chairs were allocated the same way they were in Cologne. Titia Bakker and Herman Wilms had meanwhile become well acquainted with the goings, so their augmenting efforts were of great help. By the time the second convention took place, membership had grown to 332. Munich saw 460 visitors from 23 nations and 25 exhibitors from 11 countries on 250 sq.meters.
Less encouraging, however, was the fact that the Society’s governing body, in spite of the proven success, did still hesitate to formally sanction the European convention activities. Moreover, when the plans for the Munich event were submitted to headquarters, an unexpected read-light was received. Fortunately, Joe Ooms´ intervention remedied this stumbling block in time. Sure, to long standing AES members such „treatment of affairs“ was no reason for irritation as they knew, that their Society’s business was (and is) in fact based on tight principles and procedures, which of course is to the benefit and trust of the membership and their fees. Such principles and procedures generally in large professional organizations do not allow for unusual, not sufficiently predictable risks, as Cologne surely was. So, also Munich was run on the risk of at least seven volunteers who believed in the success of the venue.
When Munich was over, there was little doubt that these young Europe conventions have been the groundwork for a still unbroken continuity. And now it was time to deliver proof of the meaning behind CES, namely, that the goal was to erect the Audio Engineering Society in Europe, not in one country only. Good contacts were meanwhile settled with a number of members and colleagues from most countries around. In analyzing and weighing the various potentials it was a matter of good understanding and fair discussion when we chose Rotterdam, the renowned Netherlands harbor city, for the third European AES convention site. To meet the larger size of the venue, the convention committee was extended by A.Balster for Facilities, F.Hirsch/B.Tellegen for Exhibition, E.v.Wayenburg for Ladies´Program and I.Schlote for Registration.
With it and the planning incurred, also the breakthrough was achieved regarding acknowledgment and support by the Board of Governors, which opened the doors for a much more efficient cooperation with the AES HQ. I´ll not forget the ways how my and our good friend Don Plunkett in his incomparable composition of imagination, reliability, judgment and surprise has done his part in „fastening the seatbelt“ between New York and the old continent. From Rotterdam on, Europe conventions were included into the convention numbering system, i.e. this third convention in Europe was labeled Nr.44. This also was a sign of equal-opportunity-integration, well understood by all involved. Rotterdam saw 578 visitors from 26 countries and 35 exhibitors from 12 countries on 350 sq.meters. Membership figure was grown to 465.
Since, we have seen a steady and remarkable development with further conventions in Copenhagen, London, Zürich, Paris, Hamburg, Brussels, Montreux, Eindhoven, Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam. Some of these places have meanwhile housed AES more than once. By 1997, the size of the venues has reached dimensions that can easily compare with those of other large professional organizations, and the Europe membership count has climbed up to 4500. Sections are now active in almost every European country, and it belongs to my preferred remembrances when I traveled Belgium, France, Denmark, The Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, and of course my home country, to promote and assist in the formation of the first national sections in Europe between 1973 and 1976.
Continuity is the proof of the pudding, so to say. And, evidently, continuity is there. Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated crew in the beginning and organized transition to capable successors, AES is now an established factor in the scientific, technical and commercial scene in Europe. Let’s not forget to consider also the far-stretched invaluable experiences which a growing group of notable chairmen and officers could gain since the inception of AES in Europe. The elder initiators, mostly retired now, are still watching the field with untiring attention. They are happy to observe that one of their major goals has come true: Equal chances for all, regardless of geography or language, to gain knowledge and information, to have access to the state of the art in Audio Engineering and allied disciplines and, as a great extra value, easier access to the leading heads behind.. And the elders are not unhappy having made the experience that it can pay running a risk (non-materially this time of course).
Finalizing this brief recollection of one of the most rewarding parts of my life, I wanted to express my gratitude for having had the chance to cooperate with so many people of dedicated and loyal disposition. The mutual work has had a good goal. And all together have reached it. Isn’t that something!?
I am indebted to Herman Wilms for submitting historical printwork, statistics and photos, and to Karl O.Bäder for lightening some forlorn details.
special print, Historical Committee 1973
H.A.O. Wilms, „20 AES Conventions in Europe“, AES-Journal, June 1990
Memos T.K.S.Bakker, Apr/Sept. 1985,
*Prof.Dr.-Ing.h.c. Walter Bruch, „Von der
Tonwalze zur Bildplatte“, Funkschau 1977,
Convention programs 1C, 2C, 44
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