In public transit stations from London to New York you often hear the sound of gentle classical music — some Mozart perhaps, maybe some Bach. It’s piped in as an easy way to calm angry passengers, and discourage teenagers from hanging around.
But now, Deutsche Bahn — Germany’s national train operator — has come up with a different, slightly more confrontational approach. This autumn, it will try piping “atonal music” into a Berlin railway station, a spokesman confirmed Wednesday in an emailed statement. It is an attempt to make the station less comfortable for drug users.
In explaining the move, an official told the publication Deutsche Welle that few people find such music beautiful, and that many perceive it as something to run away from.
Deutsche Bahn was unable to give any further details of the trial program, which was first reported in Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper. It had yet to decide what pieces of music to use. It will not play the music on platforms and risk annoying passengers waiting for trains, the spokesman said.
Atonal music was pioneered by Arnold Schoenberg, an Austrian composer who in the early 1900s looked to move away from traditional music that relied on conventional harmonies.
His pieces were met with shock. “The Futuristic music was received with decorously suppressed laughter,” The Daily Mail wrote, for example, about a piece played in London in 1912. “A feeble attempt at applause gave rise to emphatic hissing.” Atonal music now exists in every style, from electronic to jazz, but it’s classical music that’s normally preferred by public transit operators when trying to lessen antisocial behavior.
“We have never used atonal music,” said a spokesman for Transport for London, which runs London’s subway system. It is recognized as a global pioneer of playing classical music in stations to deter antisocial behavior, having used it since 2003. It currently plays tracks in over 60 stations.
Germany has less experience of piping classical music into its stations. “Lounge music” is played in an entrance to Hamburg’s Central Station, the Deutsche Bahn spokesman said, but that is the only use of music for calming purposes in its network. In 2010, Berlin’s transport authority, BVG, which runs its metro system, tried piping in classical music in one subway station, but soon abandoned the plan.
News of the atonal music decision has not gone down well with the Berlin Passenger Association, which represents public transport users. “As a passenger in Berlin there is a problem with noise already — it’s so noisy sometimes you cannot hear the announcements when something goes wrong,” said Matthias Gibtner, the group’s deputy chairman. The trains are really loud, he said. So are people talking on their cellphones. And the occasional busker.
“If they play disharmonic noises, the noise will only get worse,” Mr. Gibtner added. “So from a passenger point of view, it is a complete failure.”
A Deutsche Bahn employee had telephoned the association on Wednesday and told them that the program would not actually involve playing Schoenberg pieces, Mr. Gibtner said. Instead, it would be discordant electronic tones. But he said it didn’t matter what music is played.
“This is just an aesthetic discussion,” Mr. Gibtner said. “Whether you play a piece by Stravinsky or Mozart, it will be more noise and will get the same response.”