The difference between noise and music is a question of taste, of what one’s used to hearing and listening to, and of the times in which one lives. Music that has run counter to the accustomed and eschewed conventional harmonies, challenging listeners rather than calming and soothing them, has never had it easy. Arnold Schönberg, Paul Hindemith, and Richard Strauss thus faced hardly less headwind than the bands Einstürzende Neubauten or Swans decades later. Both the composers and the bands, notwithstanding the nearly 60 years separating them, received reviews that spoke of “noise” or even “racket”. Music that sets out in new directions is like a new language for listeners, who first have to get used to hearing it. Just like how you have to acquire a feel for a spoken language during your first few days in a strange land before you can begin to make out whether this or that phrase means “yes” or is more of a “no”—or if it’s actually a bunch of “maybes” that leave one or the other equally possible.

When it’s said that someone “adopted a different tone”, it’s almost always negatively connoted. At best, it means that the person in question mustered up some gumption, stood up, and finally spoke in no uncertain terms. Without embellishment, with no consideration for feelings, and free from inhibitions. In the worst case, however, such a “different tone” has something coarse, violating, or authoritarian to it that tolerates nothing else at its side—no resistance, no contradiction, no refusal. Such “different tones” are currently being heard more loudly than ever by those who follow international politics. They’re constantly creeping into the everyday discourse, knocking the various instruments of diplomacy out of tune and making a noisy racket that overpowers the softer voices of consideration and caution, the colourful voices of getting along together. Never has it been as important as it is today to listen to new music—to turn it up loud and give space to the voices of diversity. Because these voices are our only chance.

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