A plan to use hostile music to clear the homeless from the citys S-Bahn trains has been forced off the rails by concerned musicians
When it was announced that atonal music would be played in Berlins S-Bahn public rail network to disperse drug users and homeless people, as it considered this form of music hostile, I thought it was absurd. Ialso thought: we cant just leave it at that. I work at the Initiative Neue Musik an organisation that champions contemporary music in Berlin. I knew we had to take a stand against the exploitation of this art form against vulnerable people. We wanted to doit in a humorous way, because you cant really take the S-Bahns idea seriously: so we organised an atonal music concert in protest.
As well as its obvious inhumanity, the plan seriously misrepresented atonal music. First invented at the beginning of the 20th century, it stands for the liberation of tonal hierarchies beyond the eight notes of the traditional octave and is therefore complex on the ear. As an art form, it deals with the everyday problems of society so how can it be expected to sound just pleasant? Nobody expects contemporary visual art to be just nice.
Art shouldnt be weaponised against people. Atonal music was one of the musical forms classified as Entartete Musik degenerate music by the Nazis and forbidden. After the second world war, a young generation of composers led by Stockhausen, Boulez and Nono tried to write in a way that had no link to the Nazi regime, and turned to atonal music. Knowing that makes it all the more problematic to use this music to exclude people from public life.
In just two days, we got together some members of the most important contemporary ensembles in Berlin. Mosaik sent cellist Mathis Mayr and synthesiser player Ernst Surberg, who performed a 2014 piece by Joanna Bailie called Trains, which fitted well. I asked the soprano Sirje Viise because I knew her performances of Julius Eastmans music we chose him because, although he worked with some of the most famous minimalists in the 1970s, this African American composer died completely forgotten as a homeless person and drug addict in 1990. Other pieces included Ruth Velten playing a saxophone duet improvisation with Silke Eberhard we liked the saxophones as they trigger an association with busking.
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