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A Massive Yet Nearly Invisible Music Machine

Ellen Fullman teams with a Box Bow quartet

The video posted yesterday by the Lab, the experimental San Francisco arts and performance space, of Ellen Fullman focused on her Long String Instrument’s central quality: its tonal richness. A 50-plus-foot series of parallel strings, Fullman’s creation puts the musician — and to some extent the live audience — inside a massive yet nearly invisible music machine. As a result of dimensions, construction, and situation, the Long String Instrument excels at tonal material that balances harmonic complexity with an aesthetic sparsity.

In yesterday’s video, an excerpt of the piece “Harbors,” Fullman’s instrument was complemented by Theresa Wong’s cello, both live and repurposed thanks to a laptop. In the video posted today, which like yesterday’s is sourced from a month-long residency by Fullman at the Lab at the start of 2016, the music is more song-like, less ethereal, more earthy. This association is less because of the number of additional strings (she plays with four members of the makeshift Box Bow Ensemble, which was assembled specifically for the event), and more to do with the folk-like pacing of the piece.

The first half the video (an excerpt of a longer performance titled “Past the Angels”) rolls along at about 89 beats per minute, slowly varying the same central collaborative musical phrase, like each member is strumming the strings of some gargantuan autoharp. And then it begins to dissolve. One member of the ensemble, Crystal Pascucci, breaks from her Box Bow and strums the Long String Instrument and, later, both her own Box Bow and another. The group plays against each other, taking on a more phase-like scenario, in which the phrase is shifting, the downbeat uncertain, the cyclic nature more hallucinatory.

This description is from a note at the Lab site:

“Past the Angels”is a work for an ensemble of four performing on Fullman’s Long String Instrument using the Box Bow, a hand-held wooden tool used to strike the strings in a percussive manner. Seasoned Bay Area composer/performers Mark Clifford, David Douglas, Ryan Jobes and Crystal Pascucci will play the hocketed box bow parts. In this work, Fullman brings together the ethereal and the folk-inspired possibilities of her instrument.

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.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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