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New techno music exhibit transcends borders

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A traveling exhibition opening this month in Montreal, Canada, caught our attention. It's called Techno Worlds, and it's all about the history, roots and significance of electronic techno music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: That's a track by Abdul Qadim Haqq, one of the artists featured in Techno Worlds. The exhibition, which will travel to several U.S. and Latin American cities later this year, is a creation of the Goethe Institute, a cultural exchange agency within the German government. One of the exhibit's curators is Mathilde Weh. She says techno became hugely popular in West Germany during the Cold War, when it was embraced by West German club culture - a feel-good music with no lyrics to translate, just beats to dance to.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MATHILDE WEH: It was a new kind of music, electronic music, and it was without words. And it was not important that there was a hero or a star on the stage. The techno music was industrial and minimalistic music and the perfect soundtrack for clubs.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: But if you're thinking that techno is a form of music only associated with Germany in the '80s, Weh says there's more to the story than that.

WEH: Yes, as techno drew its inspiration from many different genres and regions of the world, but its birthplace, however, it was the former motor city of Detroit, where African American musicians were key contributors to the emergence of techno music.

(SOUNDBITE OF JUAN ATKINS SONG, "ALLEYS OF YOUR MIND")

MARTIN: This track is by Juan Atkins, a Detroit techno musician who is credited with helping to create the sound in the early '80s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALLEYS OF YOUR MIND")

JUAN ATKINS: (Singing) Alleys of your mind, of your mind, of your mind. Paranoia right behind, right behind, right behind. Alleys of your mind, of your mind, of your mind.

WEH: Techno is a sense of life and time that transcends borders - can equally well be used as a political tool.

MARTIN: Weh recalls that techno played a role in helping the world reemerge from the deep division that characterized the Cold War.

WEH: In Germany, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, techno was seen as a unifying element between east and west. It was a nonverbal language without borders and for which it doesn't matter where you come from.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Techno, in a sense, became the soundtrack of freedom for many eastern Europeans at the time.

WEH: It was a strong feeling of freedom at the time in the clubs, and I think that that is the fascination of it. It was a spirit of optimism and freedom.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: That was Mathilde Weh, a German musician and one of the curators of the Techno Worlds traveling exhibition, making its way through cities across North America starting this month and then around the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.