German train company scraps controversial plan to use ‘hostile music’ to deter homeless

A protest from artists has led to the plan being scrapped

Germany’s national train operator Deutsche Bahn has scrapped a controversial plan to play atonal music on Berlin’s S-Bahn public rail network as a method of deterring the homeless and ‘drug users’.

The ‘hostile music’ scheme was due to be trialed at Hermannstrasse station, but was called off following a protest concert by contemporary music organisation Initiative Neue Musik.

The initiative held an atonal concert outside the station to protest what one of their members Lisa Benjes called “the exploitation of this art form against vulnerable people.”

The impromptu concert was attended by 300 people including the homeless, who were also offered food. Also in attendance was The S-Bahn’s manager, Friedemann Kessler, who then decided to drop the planned scheme.

Writing in The Guardian, Benjes said: “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.”

Benjes continued: “Art shouldn’t be weaponised against people. Atonal music was one of the musical forms classified as  degenerate music by the Nazis and forbidden. After the second world war, a young generation of composers… 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.”