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The Ghosts of 2012

img  Tobias Fischer
article image

From the balcony of our friends' apartment on Weichselstrasse, the fireworks look as perfect as pictures on a tourist postcard. All across the horizon, gunpowder is exploding into myriads of happy supernovas, rockets are shooting by from all directions and foul-smelling dust is rising from the streets in thick plumes – behind its quickly closing veil, red and green fires are glowing with burning intensity. Berlin is beginning to look and sound like a warzone, but from our safe spot high up on the fourth floor, champagne glasses in our hands and smiles on our faces, what we're feeling isn't fear, but perplexity and bewilderment at the exhilarating madness of the spectacle. And yet, the louder and wilder the celebrations get, the more quiet it grows inside of us, as we realise how precisely they mirror our own private reason for assembling here: to perform an exorcism on the ghosts of 2012, a year marked by health issues, doubts and death.

Bad beginnings
On January 1st  2012, I opened my Facebook account to discover that composer Richard Lainhart had passed away. It was hard not to regard this bad beginning as a premonition. Although I had only briefly met him once roughly a year and a half earlier, our contact by mail had been intimate and warm and his untimely and entirely unexpected departure didn't just come as a shock, but put into question my entire journalistic philosophy. Tied up in a tight web of deadlines and assignments, not only was I finding it hard to come up with the right words to bid him farewell. But as beautiful and personal obituaries started popping up across the web, I also started wondering what their point was, when we could – and should - have celebrated Richard's oeuvre a lot more while he was still alive. I had always considered that the main purpose of a music magazine was to review and recommend outstanding releases, to reveal the processes behind their creation. That concept, it now dawned on me, was preventing me from writing about what I really considered a far more rewarding topic: The people behind the music and their struggle with, as Michael Pisaro once aptly put it, finding ways of being able to do what you want to do under difficult or outright averse circumstances.

Of course, in many respects, this was also my own struggle. I kept thinking back to a conversation I'd had years ago with a good friend of mine, with whom I'd written and recorded songs in school, who had gone on to become a dentist. Although he was far from discontent with his choices in life, he confessed a sense of envy about my journey towards becoming a fully-fledged journalist and making a living from writing. After all, wasn't I truly 'living my dream'? As anyone who wants to build something up from scratch will know, living your dream mostly means being overworked, underpaid and frustrated with the sluggish rate of progress. At least, that's what it mostly felt to me, back then, as I was trying to juggle various paying jobs and my duties for the website, which certainly wasn't growing at a rate which seemed to justify the work invested in it. And yet, he wasn't entirely wrong, either: My network with tokafi was growing and I had secured a small writing job with a printmagazine on recording – definitely a dream come true and an unexpected stroke of good fortune. Unfortunately, it is hard to realise and enjoy the progress you're making while it is unfolding and all the more tempting to look for compromise and safety as opportunities arise. And so, the original vision or dream was replaced by routine and what seemed to be practical necessities. Around 2010, I was feeling somewhat constrained by what I'd created, with standard formats like interviews, concert reports and reviews preventing the occasional surprise or out-of-the-box article. There were, I felt, other publications out there, which were defining and re-defining the concept of what a music mag could be, with more aplomb, creativity and freshness. And so, it was time to either wrap things up or completely re-think them.

Immanent changes
I had my personal epiphany while researching two articles commissioned for a collection of essays about digital publishing roughly halfway into 2012. The transformation of the market for books and magazines, I realised, was immanent and it was going to change it as incisively as it had the music industry. This opened up incredible opportunities for long-form journalism, in-depth reports and exciting multimedia combinations and it also made it abundantly clear where the respective strengths of the worlds of 'traditional online media' and digital reading devices lay and how they could be combined to create an entirely new, multi layered reading experience. New formats like ebooks containing collected articles and features could outlive the day-to-day fleetingness of the web, where even the most beautifully written and expertly crafted review or interview is usually forgotten as soon as it has moved from the front page to the archive – something that had always bothered me about the webzine-approach. Most importantly, however, creating things of permanence – whatever that word may mean these days – certainly seemed like an appealing proposition after a year marked by health issues, doubts and death.

For a writer, these may well be the most exciting times in a long while and so they may be for readers looking for meaning beyond the superficial. As the fireworks are gradually dying out and silence is once again falling over Berlin, the journey is sure to go into a new round – straight into the burning beacon of  light behind that thick veil of smoke.

Picture credit: Anna Cervova.

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