Research Update: “Tracing interactions and transformations in contemporary arts-based protest movements in Germany”

Grad grantees

by Carolin Mueller, PhD student in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, The Ohio State University

Concert at the Bergfunkfestival in Berlin.

The recent influx of refugees to Germany lead to renewed discussions of how the “integration” of ethnically diverse actors is understood, practiced, and organized in German host communities, where national identities are highly contested. In 2014 PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), a nationalist, anti-Islam, far-right protest movement, emerged in Dresden, and caused a range of debates about the social inclusion of migrants. In response to nationalist claims, NO-PEGIDA counter-protest engaged in the cross-lingual and cross-cultural production of art to explore coping mechanisms for the impacts of global mobility. This summer I spent time in Dresden, exploring one of the most significant examples of this development, the musician collective “Banda Internationale” to understand the impacts of their efforts on community-building through the arts.

Concert at the Scheune in Dresden

My research was guided by questions such as: What spaces were made available to migrants through community engagement through music? What impact did incoming band members have on intergroup interactions? What forms of artistic expression were explored, developed, or merged? And, what passageways does music offer to come to terms with culturally-different forms of expression?

These questions helped me reflect on the recorded concerts. At the TFF in Rudolstadt in July, the opening performance allowed me to observe how the instrumentalists occupied spaces for individual and ensemble performances:

The qanun interrupts the cheering by quickly clicking on the high notes. While it carefully sounds out the distances of the concert space, the kalimba joins trotting out of the silence in deep tunes.

The kalimba hits different tones.
How far does it travel?
Deep electronic outcries,
People pouring in,
And sonic signals reflected from the body of the audience.
The drumsticks interrupt.
An attempt to disturb the kalimba’s melancholic journey?

There is not much time to further think about this question. The saxophone begins to breathe deeply: in and out, long and deep. The cymbals are slightly brushed. the breath is deepened even more.

The qanun jumps back in, tickling the saxophone.
back and forth
sounding the chirping of crickets, while the saxophone breathes on.

As the saxophone feels out the concert space, the other instruments seem to be jumping over the heads of the people in the audience who are standing or bouncing their bodies to the sound.

The rattle sets in
The bass drum gets louder.

Concert at the Elbwiesen in Dresden

As the frequency of the sound augments, the drum sets in. The niches taken up by the individual instruments get smaller and smaller. I feel overwhelmed by the clicking and the clacking, the breathing, and the ambience of the space filling with a range of different instrumental voices. I hear the qanun and rattle chasing each other around my ears, flying of the stage, through the branches of the trees and back. Their run is interrupted by the dark and slow bouncing of the saxophone, which tries to calm the lively crowd. But the drum does not want to have that and protests the saxophone stomping loudly. In response to the competing voices at play, the tuba takes charge of the chaos and announces the starting point for the remaining orchestral body that has been quietly observing from the back.

Concert at the TFF Rudolstadt

Thanks to a graduate student grant from the Global Mobility Project, and the felicitous connection that I was able to establish to the Banda, I observed and recorded their performances at twenty concerts, conducted seven interviews with different band members, and attended several band practices to gain a better understanding of their work and community. Focusing my data collection on their performances, my analysis of the visual and audio material explores the interactions between performers, instruments, and their environment, the stage. Our conversations were often centered on how the instruments were able to communicate, which involved re-developing ways of communication among performers through different languages and play. Making music together stands as the primary goal for the band project, and allows for gateways to address questions of the inclusion of different voices at different stages of interaction.

I was invited to share this project’s preliminary findings at the Midwest Modern Languages Association Conference in Cincinnati. The conference, themed “Artists and Activism”, brought together faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, as well as artists to discuss the connections between arts-based expressions and social change. In a co-sponsored effort by the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, the School of Music and the Undergraduate Studies Committee in AAAS, I was able to arrange an artist exchange with Banda member Ezé Wendtoin who will be visiting Ohio State University March 18 – April 4 2018. By bringing Mr. Wendtoin to the Ohio communities, we hope to explore further impact of this project’s activist objectives in sharing their ways of community-building through the arts.

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