expanded package view
Ellen Fullmans's first proper full length for Important Records follows her collaborative work with Barn Owl (IMPREC277) and a split LP with Eleh (IMPREC318). She was also featured on The Harmonic Series: A Collection Of Work In Just Intonation (IMPREC272).
In 1981 Ellen Fullman began developing the “Long String Instrument,” an installation of dozens of wires fifty feet or more in length, tuned in Just Intonation and ‘bowed’ with rosin coated fingers. Fullman has developed a unique notation system to choreograph the performer’s movements, exploring sonic events that occur at specific nodal point locations along the string-length of the instrument. She has recorded extensively with this unusual instrument and has collaborated with such luminary figures as composer Pauline Oliveros, choreographer Deborah Hay, the Kronos Quartet, and Keiji Haino. She has been the recipient of numerous awards, commissions and residencies.
Through Glass Panes
In composing “Event Locations No. 2”, I set out to focus more strictly than I ever had on detail in the choreography of my notation. Through writing the piece I designed ways to add more specific information in the score. The tuning uses a set of pitches based in the key of A, in combination with Arnold Dreyblatt’s tuning system based on F. These two roots generate tones in common but also complex or “dissonant” tones. I wanted to find a way to incorporate more dissonance into my sound and intentionally worked with beating frequencies in this piece.
“Never Gets Out of Me”, a duet with cellist Theresa Wong, and “Flowers”, a trio recorded with Travis Weller and Henna Cho, are adaptations from “Stratified Bands: Last Kind Words”, originally composed for the Kronos Quartet in the Other Minds Festival. The composition is based on Last Kind Words Blues, a haunting song by Geeshie Wiley recorded in 1930. An excerpt of the lyrics:
If I get killed, if I get killed, please don’t bury my soul,
I’d pro’bly just leave me out, let the buzzards eat me whole.
The cello and violin writing for these pieces was influenced by my study of North Indian vocal music. My intention is that the sounds of all instruments mesh into an undulation like water flowing. Composed melodic phrases are based on fragments from the song lyrics in combination
with impressions from the overtone melodies produced by the long string instrument. “Flowers” was recorded at Seaholm, a decommissioned electric power plant in Austin, Texas. A flock of sparrows that nest inside the cathedral-like cast-concrete space can be heard chirping on this recording.
“Through Glass Panes” is constructed around a sequence of rhythmic patterns played using the “box bow”. Homage to the harmonica, the box bow is a hand held hollow wooden box with a curved lower surface used to play my instrument percussively. Techniques based on hand drumming inform the articulations of the tool used to strike groupings of strings tuned to chords. Two box bow performers stand facing each other at a double-sided resonator to play hocketed parts providing a stable framework from which to measure spectral changes in the sustained texture.
Tiny Mix Tapes
Future Sequence article & images:
Ellen Fullman is quite a lady. Having invented her own instrument, the 21 metre "long stringed instrument" - which is played by rubbing the strings with rosin coated hands, and part of the experimental music avant garde, much covered and admired by Wire magazine, she has played with Pauline Oliveros' infamous Deep Listening Band, Dutch sound art-ist Paul Panhuysen and the Kronos Quartet amongst others. Her influence can be heard in the work of many modern classical, ambient and drone artists operating today, such as Richard Skelton, or Erik Skodwin for example. Her recent split release with the mysterious electronic outfit 'Eleh', also on Important Records, reiterates the importance and timelessness of her work.
Named after Margaret Rabb's poem (from the book Granite Dives) 'Through Glass Panes' sees Fullman putting to work the long stringed instrument, the metallic rub of the strings on opener 'Never Get Out of Me' is complimented perfectly by electronic treatments similar in intonation to Gareth Hardwicks's Sunday Afternoon - and wavers in the same air bending heat too. Singular sine waves of the mysterious Eleh worked perfectly with Fullmans instrumental setup. Here the instrument seems to emulate the sitar, an instrument with much history behind it. I remember spending one summer listening to Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin 'East Meets West' collaboration on my flat mates' charity shop vinyl and drinking copious amounts of tea. As a first experience of the raga; what struck me was its majestic air, the never-ending shifting forms, and turning pace in the melody and percussions. Owing much to the intonation of the sitar; its metallic twang with lingering notes - a kind of natural decaying drone - the word 'raga' translates literally as 'colour' or 'hue'. Far from being left in the mist of rambling extended pentatonic scales though, there are passages in this, and next track 'Flowers' which touch on beautiful melodies, reached as if discovered through patient meditation. A kind of sonic secret garden. Recordings of birds provide a sweetly tuned back drop that is deeply satisfying.
Through Glass Panes and Event Locations 2 both weigh in at over 20 minutes in length, sitting aside from the preceeding tracks in temperament also - these are more rhythmically focused, and technically structured - acutely centred around Fullman's experiments with keys and tunings systems with a view to incorporate more dissonance in her work. The other difference being that the first two tracks are adapted from Stratified Bands: Last Kind Words - written for Kronos Quartet.
The air then that surrounds Fullmans every work is live, electric and fundamentally humanist - if the computer has a part in the process of these sounds it is certainly not overt and if anything nothing more than a means to an end. In creating an instrument so intrinsically physical, she stamps a freedom of expression, but at the same time removes the importance of the resulting work on the process. If it is by a need for control, for understanding the root of creation then so be it, the output is remarkable, earthy and classical - and yet modern also.
Available on CD from Important Records