In the early 1980s, Ellen Fullman began developing the "Long String Instrument," stringing tuned piano wire across her Brooklyn studio. In the last thirty years, she has moved this instrument all over the country, and for one day she'll perform in ISSUE Project Room's new space at 110 Livingston, in Downtown Brooklyn (May 22: 3 pm & 7 pm: brand-new ISSUE members get two free tickets). It's been compared to standing inside an enormous grand piano, or "some cyclopean subterranean grotto" (The Wire). She has an upcoming release on Important Records, Through Glass Panes, and the mix below includes a few of these tracks as well as collaborations with the artists she'll be joined by later this month.
These comparisons, like "standing inside an enormous grand piano," don't quite convey the symbiosis between Fullman's instrument and her way of playing it. It's true, the audience is sitting in a room with seventy 80-foot, precisely tuned wires strung across it, but the comparison seems to fall apart when you realize you've never quite heard a piano that sounds like this. Instead of playing digitally, Fullman's playing seems to live on the threshold of audibility. The on/off of the piano seems distant — can a light brush on a single string be counted as a "note," in the same way that pressing a key constitutes a note?
The careful tuning of the strings causes sympathetic resonances among them. The wire is strung between resonator boxes made of Sitka spruce, built by a harp builder, and the sound is entirely acoustic. This setup, which on the surface seems simple, like a giant guitar with no frets or a harp with no pedals, creates infinitely complex resonances and acoustic effects. In a resonant space, the line between the instrument sounding and not sounding could be blurred.
The uploaded tracks include collaborations with the musicians she'll be performing with on May 22. Through Glass Panes, her new CD on Important Records, includes a duet with Theresa Wong, "Never Gets Out of Me," and other tracks include a duet with percussionist Sean Meehan ("untitled 3," out on cut), electronic musician David Gamper, and trombonist Monique Buzzarté ("Fluctuation 5," from the album Fluctuations on Pauline Oliveros's Deep Listening label).
Photos by Judy Dater (bottom) // this post via ISSUE Project Room's Andrew C. Smith at the Free Music Archive