‘Art shouldn’t be weaponised’: the atonal concert championing Berlin’s homeless

A plan to use ‘hostile’ music to clear the homeless from the city’s S-Bahn trains has been forced off the rails by concerned musicians

When it was announced that atonal music would be played in Berlin’s 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. I also thought: we can’t 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 do it in a humorous way, because you can’t really take the S-Bahn’s 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.

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