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Collective authorship

Music for the Eyes The PODIUM Festival in Esslingen: Chamber Concert or Digital Event?

Steven Walter

Interview by Jeffrey Döring with Steven Walter

In this interview, Steven Walter presents the PODIUM Festival he runs in Esslingen as an example of the way a younger generation of artists uses digital media. The festival was conceived as a platform for contemporary chamber music, although concerts are always thought-out spatially or supported by media-based performance. Steven Walter notes at the outset that social media platforms have always been seen by the festival’s founders as an indispensable tool of internal communication, as the project participants are scattered around the globe, but this still goes hand-in-hand with a specific form of communicating as part of the program design process. The democratic conversation permitted by social media has eroded the position of the sole artistic director in favor of embracing the entire team and their artistic suggestions. Steven Walter functions, in his own words, more as a filter for these many ideas a project curator.
One hallmark of PODIUM, according to Walter, is the idea that concert design is a specific art practice. Apart from the musical skills of the instrumentalists, a major focus lies in creating a spatial framework that dissolves the boundary to the auditorium, involving the audience by immersion and thereby merging reception with production. PODIUM presents most of its concerts as a synthesis of space (malleable, for example through projection mapping), performance (by external performers, instrumentalists present, and participatory guests), and music (a guiding principle for the first two categories in terms of rhythm and temporality). The music is thus a springboard for constant new formats which replace previous chamber music formats with spatial strategies, in particular music visualization and projection mapping.
Apart from gamification and media support for the concerts, PODIUM is presented through its app Henry as a »digital stage.« Henry is a digital curator whose job is granting users access to contemporary music. In addition to weekly introductions to specific composers and other musicians, which feature their works, Henry complements the listening experience with background material and a specially generated podcast. Unlike other audio streams, Henry does not allow fast-forwarding or rewinding, so compositions and musical arrangements must be experienced as a whole work.
Steven Walter describes PODIUM as a balancing act between an annual, mediatized live event and an ongoing digital podcast app. This online/offline synchronicity is highlighted in the ensuing discussion, not least by Jean-Baptiste Joly.