— Cultural Sources of Newness

Working hard on newness

Before my day began in earnest this morning, I ran across a BBC radio 4 program called “Embracing idleness.”  Very tempting, I thought: it might offer some inspiration for my work, or—even better, given that I am tired—some legitimation for not working. However, although the program did encourage taking some “idle” time, it only gave positive examples of artists doing so, not social scientists. Somewhat disappointed, I dug into the Spanish data on artistic interventions that I urgently needed to analyse before going out to a concert this evening: The ensemble für neue musik zürich  was scheduled to perform at the Ackerstadtpalast in Berlin. It promised to be a stimulating experience with a conductor I like. The space was intimate. A beautiful collection of instruments awaited us.

Instruments for work and play (photo ABA)

The conductor, Sebastian Gottschick,  explained to the audience who filled the small hall that we would be hearing three new pieces that the ensemble had commissioned, each of which highlighted one of the instruments:

“Concerto a sei” by Sascha Lino Lemke   (by the way his website is quite neat), for the cellist Nicola Romanò

“En attendant l’aube” by Philippe Racine, for the flautist, Hans-Peter Frehner

“what/now/next” by Bruno Stöckli  for the clarinettist, Manfred Spitaler.

Listening and watching intently, I could not help but think of the article by Stefan Meisiek and MaryJo Hatch entitled “This is work, this is play” about artistic interventions in organizations. Usually we refer to musicians playing, but the concert was hard work for the musicians and for the audience. Sebastian Gottschick conducted the six musicians (all men) energetically and precisely without a break between the complex pieces. The flautist alternated between 5 flutes; the clarinettist had 3 sizes to perform with; the percussionist had countless instruments arrayed around him; the pianist not only used various items on his piano, he also had a harmonica and a percussion instrument.

It was truly fascinating to watch, the atmosphere was extremely concentrated. But did they enjoy playing?  I saw only one brief smile all evening, which I found unusual in a concert of contemporary music.

The part of the concert that may be the most promising source of newness were the two “entreactes” that Sebastian Gottschick composed for the process of re-organizing and re-tuning their instruments between the 3 core pieces on the program. He calls these pieces “Umbaumusik.” The feeling of play came alive during these two pieces, particularly Entreacte II, which has the additional subtitle “Inspired by Fantasia Upon One Note by Henry Purcell.” I would greatly look forward to hearing it again, and would warmly recommend other composers to consider devoting their energies to Umbaumusik in future.

Tonight’s concert was “imported” from Switzerland by a conductor born and bred in Berlin.  And a few kilometres away another set of foreign artists were performing in Kreuzberg at the week-long ExpatExpo that opened on Friday. If I did not have to continue working on my analysis to meet upcoming deadlines, I would love to opt for the “idleness” of dipping into the multiplicity of events at the ExpatExpo. I hope that friends or colleagues who can arrange their time differently will go instead and report back  to me on the potential sources of newness the expat artist community is generating in this city.


Meisiek, S. and Hatch, M. J. (2008). This is Work, This is Play: Artful Interventions and Identity Dynamics, in: D. Barry and H. Hansen (eds.) The Sage Handbook of New Approaches in Management, pp. 412-422. London: Sage.