Listening To The C
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15 February 2018
By Lee Walton and Laurent Estoppey
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Listening to the C, Collaboration with Laurent Estoppey, 2018

12X12 Series, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston Salem, NC


Listening to the C, a collaboration with Laurent Estoppey, was my contribution to the final component of 12x12 at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem.


12x12 gave artists from across North Carolina a public platform for their artistic development in the place where they live and work. The series pushed audiences to reconsider localism as a curatorial framework, questioning what it means to be an artist in the South in the wake of globalization.


I collaborated with saxophonist and composer Laurent Estoppey to create a socially-engaged project that directly interacted with our local community. In our overlapping research, Laurent and I created Listening to the C.

Listening to the C is a multi-media musical score composed entirely of C notes that Laurent and I played on people’s personal pianos in their homes. Playing only the note C on 44 different pianos, the variation of tunings and unique timbres of each piano revealed a range of different tones that were considered to be, or at least trying to be, a C note. This score celebrates the beauty, diversity, and non-digital nuance of the individual pianos.

A traditional score was written for the production of the piece. Consisting of 4 simple structures of single C notes and octave C notes with short and extremely long sustains, it is intentionally difficult to play. Instructions for the composition of the piece state, “To be played on 88 different pianos in 88 different homes and organized in endless ways.”

Laurent and I captured the sound structures for 44 pianos via video and sound. Technically, this piece is considered a work in progress, as we are only halfway to 88. It was important that Laurent and I physically visit the various homes to collect the sounds ourselves, as opposed to them being shared with us via video/audio file. Coordinating with each participant, having conversations, locating each home, being inside these private spaces, and finally pressing the keys of the piano to play the notes were all necessary to the experiential aspect of creating the piece.


2 photos documented each piano. These photos were used in the video pieces and also printed for the installation. There were 2 specific shots involved.


  1.      Owner takes a photo of their piano in any way they choose with entire piano in frame.
  2.      We take a photo of their piano as straight-on as possible with entire piano in frame.


We organized 176 different sound and video components to create an immersive installation inside the Living Room at SECCA, the historically preserved grand room of Richard Joshua Reynolds’ home.


A series of pieces were made, each uniquely organized by system and chance-based methods. These pieces were arranged in the Living Room to create a totally immersive soundscape experience for museum guests. We utilized various video screens and video projections of different sizes, placed casually on the chairs and floors. We used a scope of low, mid, and high-fidelity speakers, ranging robust subwoofers to iPod minis. We also integrated a live performance of a middle C on the grand piano in the living room.


The system and chance-based methods of compositions were as follows:


  •        Order of C notes determined by low register to high register.
  •        Order of C notes determined by exterior finish of the pianos. 
  •        Order of C notes determined by alphabetical order of pianos owner names.
  •        Order of C notes (all 4 structures) programmed to play completely by chance continuously without repetition.
  •        Only sustained middle C notes with attack and fade out removed from sound.
  •        Octave sustains with attack removed from sound.
  •        All raw footage in real time of the creation of the piece.
  •        Single C notes, short bounces with video edit determined by attack.


Utilizing only C notes is a direct homage to Terry Riley’s iconic score In C (1964), as well as the micro-tonal music of Karlheinz Stockhausen. Additionally, the piece is influenced by Sol Lewitt’s conceptual and system-based scores that explore repetition and permutations as well as the chance-based methods of John Cage. This piece takes a cue from Cage’s method of creating an open space for the interplay of interdependent sounds as a metaphor for an experimental society. In our case, the variations of notes attempting to be a “perfect C” bring an awareness to the notion that it is our differences, not our sameness, that make the world interesting.


The socially-engaged process of meeting with numerous people to physically play the notes in their piano has precedent in the seminal work Touch Sanitation Performance (1977-80) by Mierle Laderman Ukeles, in which she shook the hand of every one of the 8,500 sanitation workers employed by the city of New York.


Laurent Estoppey (Switzerland / North Carolina) is a multimedia artist and composer whom plays the saxophone and electronics for orchestra, chamber, improvisation, stage, installation and video. He is the artistic director of pluri-disciplinary collective Collapss and Swiss ensemBle baBel. Estoppey regularly collaborates with artists Christian Marclay and Martin Creed and was nominated in 2017 for the Herb Alpert Music Award.


Visit Laurent's Website


Listening to the C

Component for Installation, 1 of 8.

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