The ubu.com sound archive of the avant-garde has uploaded five tracks by Ellen Fullman, the composer-inventor whose Long String Instrument is one of the marvels of non-electronic ambient sound. Many first heard her and the instrument on the Asphodel Records collection A Storm of Drones, which was released in 1995, and these ubu.com recordings predate that compilation by a full decade — making them, to some astonishment, a quarter century old, though they sound as fresh as ever. They originally comprised the album The Long String Instrument, released (and long out of print) on the label Het Apollohuis/Apollo Records.
Fullman has described her instrument succinctly as one in which “rosin-coated fingers brush across dozens of metallic strings, fifty or more feet in length,” and her factual and pithy description fails to do justice to the rich, complex sound that arises from those strings. Seen in person, the Long String Instrument suggests some Brobdingnagian guitar — or a hyperlinear web in which the performer is a spider navigating its construction. This recent image from Fullman’s website gives some sense of the instrument:
Heard in these 1985 recordings, the instrument produces a mix of bellows-line intonations and percussive strums. Each of the five tracks emphasize one element of the instrument’s sonic properties over the others: “Swingen,” for example, is percussive (MP3), while “Woven Processional” (performed with Arnold Dreyblatt) is psychedelic in its swirling, sitar-like reverie (MP3).