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The Long String Instrument Adds More Strings

Ellen Fullman teams with cellist Theresa Wong in this live video

This video doesn’t quite do justice to the structural, installation-scale, architectural beauty that is Ellen Fullman’s 50-plus-foot Long String Instrument in person. But the recording, made on January 31, 2016, at the Lab in San Francisco, certainly captures the music of the spheres — make that music of the parallel linearities — that is Fullman in concert. And there are four bonus strings, in the form of Theresa Wong’s accompanying cello — actually more than four, because Wong is also working with material captured on her laptop. Fullman’s singular instrument, which she’s been at for decades, fills the room both materially and sonically with overtones amid overtones, all those strings sympathetically beading and droning, influencing each other, seeking a common tonal ground. Wong’s cello lends a through line of gently sawed grounding. The piece is titled “Harbors,” and it was part of a month-long residency that Fullman had at the Lab at the start of 2015. A note at the Lab site sets the stage for the performance:

“Harbors”, is a collaboration with composer and cellist Theresa Wong. Pitch material used in the piece is generated from the harmonic series of each of the open strings of the cello and the tones resulting from pressing a string at a harmonic nodal point. Wong and Fullman researched and mapped this palette, selecting subsets as tonal areas of focus for each movement of the piece. A recurring motif is a simple two-note cello phrase: harmonic, then pressed. Wong captures material using Ableton Live! which she can then play as another instrument, layering harmonic possibilities. “Harbors”draws inspiration from the soundscapes as well as the stories and atmospheres that manifest around such bodies of water that propagate exchange.

The video was first posted on the Lab’s YouTube channel. It’s the latest piece I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine “Ambient Performances.” More from Fullman at ellenfullman.com. More from Theresa Wong at theresawong.org.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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