Pauline Heister is the first woman to hold a professorship in Audio Engineering/Production at the mdw. She brings with her a rich body of professional experience in orchestral recording and opera broadcasting, and she now looks forward to cultivating intensified exchange between Tonmeisters and instrumentalists at the FAL.

It was while the Department of Composition, Electroacoustics, and Tonmeister Education was moving into its new spaces in the Future Art Lab that Pauline Heister moved from Munich to Vienna. And at the beginning of the present semester, this former head Tonmeister at Bayerischer Rundfunk (Bavarian Broadcasting) took up her professorship in Audio Engineering/Production at the mdw. Having already explored the city (enjoyably tourist-free thanks to COVID-19), she enthusiastically dove into the efforts to help set up the department in its new home. Heister is excited by the technical infrastructure to which she and her students now have access, and she’s also happy about the student Tonmeisters’ newfound proximity to the instrumental students. “Tonmeisters are translators between technology and music, and I really hope that we’ll now be growing closer to all of the other departments located at Anton-von-Webern-Platz.” The new studio capacities make possible a commensurately greater degree of exchange, with the Tonmeisters now in a position to offer their instrumental colleagues the opportunity to record—a win-win situation for mdw students. Tonmeister Studies majors will be able to gather valuable practical experience, while instrumentalists will have the opportunity to reflect on their own interpretations and instrumental sounds. “The mdw has great potential, here,” says Heister, who adds that her profession is all about practical experience: “The theoretical training provided by the mdw is very good, but Tonmeisters—like instrumentalists—also need to practice.”

Pauline Heister © Stephan Polzer

Exactly what a Tonmeister does is something that Pauline Heister, back when she was 14, had to look up herself in the Brockhaus Encyclopaedia: “I never wanted to make ‘just’ music. My instrument was the flute, but the combination of technology and music was something that instantly fascinated me.” It’s evident that the variety inherent in her profession, the broad spectrum of relevant subject areas between music, acoustics, and natural science, is something that continues to excite Heister today. And her approach to teaching at the mdw is influenced by lively memories of her own studies in Detmold: “My student days were a wonderful and demanding time. I played chamber music, sang in a choir, and made recordings every week. We were in the studios day and night, so we could really go wild—and also make every possible mistake.”

The professional world that awaits today’s students has changed profoundly. Heister is familiar with the frequently precarious working conditions with which Tonmeisters are now confronted. While it used to be the case that there was a Tonmeister who read the score and an audio engineer who saw to the technical side of things, it’s now frequently a one-man show—“the all-in-one Tonmeister who sets up his own equipment, does the soundcheck, and leads the recording session. And in truth, he also acts as a champion of both the composers and the musicians.” But wait: He? For quite some time now, it’s also been she. “As a student, I was the only woman among 50 men,” says Pauline Heister with a laugh: “I enjoyed that quite a bit.” As a young producer, Heister’s experiences were pretty disparate: “I’d like to mention Claudio Abbado as a shining example of someone who accepted me with zero reservations without even knowing me. That was great, but it’s something I didn’t experience with all the men I encountered.” Heister recalls producers who “decided not to work with me because they were so afraid that I, being a woman, wouldn’t find the right knobs.” With Maestro Abbado, on the other hand, Heister went on to produce a large number of recordings over a long period of time. Her overall career as a young Tonmeister in Germany was quick to take off: following graduation, she went to Hamburg to work for Sony Classical (“Back then, I did a lot of work in Vienna, and we recorded quartets in Grafenegg.”) and took part in the golden years of the CD boom. And at barely 30 years of age, Pauline Heister became the recording producer of the Berlin Philharmonic. “As a woman! Back then, that wasn’t exactly normal; it only happened because I’d had repeated opportunities to work with people for whom it wasn’t an issue.”

Alongside her intensive activities with Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic, Pauline Heister—as an executive producer and head of the Music Production Department at Bayerischer Rundfunk—became a bona fide expert in opera broadcasting thanks to work experience that included many years’ worth of productions in Bayreuth and Munich.

At the mdw, Heister intends to arm her students—women and men like—with self-confidence, because “this is a job where, when in doubt, you do need to be able to assert yourself.” Above and beyond basic musicality, says Heister, the things that a Tonmeister needs to bring to the table “are above all good ears as well as many years of experience on at least one instrument—and you have to really want to do it. You’ve got to have a passion for this profession, be able to handle stress, be technically gifted, proceed in a structured fashion, and keep your cool when necessary.”

Her graduates, says Heister, also have to be able to convince people of their skills’ value amidst a price war that includes competitors who haven’t studied. And since not everyone will land a job with a public broadcaster, “Our challenge is to also prepare our students for work as freelancers.” Video streaming is currently a huge topic in Tonmeisters’ everyday professional lives—and it’s been this way since long before the advent of COVID-19. “I do occasionally wonder who actually watches all this,” says Pauline Heister. “And sometimes, I really would like to fast-forward by 15 years so I could see how long people can still concentrate on music that doesn’t have any video to go with it. How many people, I wonder, will still be sitting down at home to just listen to a Mahler symphony?”

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