In Sympathy (2019)

Still from footage by Kim Wichera

In Sympathy is a site-specific sound installation by Coila-Leah Enderstein. The piece comprises a looping ten-minute four-channel composition for four small bluetooth speakers placed inside a concert grand piano. The damper pedal is depressed by means of an overturned piano stool, keeping the strings of the piano open.

The piece is intended as a gesture of recognition towards a piano intended for public use and the energies its body has absorbed over years of being played by many individuals. The first version of the piece was made with and for the Bechstein concert grand piano in practice room number 518 in the Universität der Künste campus at Lietzenburger Strasse 45, Berlin.

Still from footage by Kim Wichera

The composition makes use of recorded improvisations at the piano that were cut and arranged for four “voices”. The sound of the composition from the speakers sets the open strings of the piano in motion, so that the piano resonates with the recorded sounds of its own activated body and mechanics. The composition is subtle, inviting the listener to move close to the piano to distinguish between the sounds from the speakers and sounds of the activated strings.

First presented as part of the Sound Studies and Sonic Arts programme at UdK Berlin in February 2019. The video below presents edited excerpts of film and audio recordings of the same installation made in 2020 (listening with headphones recommended).

Conditions for reproduction

The concept can be applied to a grand or baby grand piano in a practice room (accessible to the public for the duration of the installation) or public space where pianos are often placed for the enjoyment of the public, such as a library or foyer. The piano should be at least a few years old.

The piece has to be constructed from scratch using the piano in question. I would spend a period of time becoming acquainted with the piano’s sounds, record some material and create a draft composition to test in the piano before creating a final version for an installation.

The time required for recording is a minimum of two sessions over two days, to be determined by the scope and budget of the presentation. Similarly, the composition loop is a minimum of ca 10 minutes, with no maximum. The composition itself must allow some latency because of the procedure of switching on the bluetooth speakers.

Setup instructions

  • Each audio channel must be written to a separate micro SD card and inserted into a fully charged Anker SoundCore Mini bluetooth speaker 

  • The lid of the piano must be opened fully, and the lid of the keyboard must be opened, too. The four Anker SoundCore Mini speakers must be placed in the holes in the iron frame so that they sit on the sounding board of the piano. Placement of each speaker (and therefore channel) can be determined by what the composition demands

  • The damper pedal must be depressed in order to open the strings. If this cannot be achieved with the overturned piano stool, a wooden wedge would suffice

  • The speakers must be switched on as simultaneously as possible. Only two can be operated by one person, therefore two people are required for this action

  • The installation can run until the speaker batteries are empty, or for a shorter time period. For a ten-minute loop, a minimum session of two hours is appropriate