Classical notes: 80-foot-long musical instrument star at EMPAC
Composer/performer Ellen Fullman has spent the last 40 years developing, adapting and performing on the Long String Instrument, an extraordinary musical apparatus of her own invention. Live performances are rare and always a special event because of the instrument’s grand size and complexity. For “Elemental View,” Fullman’s latest and largest project, there are 134 strings, some of which measure up to 80 feet long. It’s the kind of undertaking ideal for EMPAC, where technical challenges and big ideas are welcomed. The concert presentation takes place at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 24 in the EMPAC Concert Hall.
As a listening experience, expect to hear layers of sustained tones with subtle shifts in the timber or character of sound and slow progressions of harmony. In order to create the music, Fullman applies resin to her fingers and uses a gentle touch as she walks the length of the strings. The sound has been compared to that of a Middle Eastern sitar and described as like being on the inside of a grand piano.
Fullman will be joined in the hourlong piece by Travis Andrews and Andy Meyerson, the duo known as Living Earth Show. They will participate on the Long String Instrument primarily to add rhythmic elements using the “box bow” and “shoveler,” handheld wooden tools designed and built by Fullman (think giant guitar picks). Later in the piece as Fullman continues on the LSI, they will introduce the slide guitar and santur, an Iraqi dulcimer.
The composition and its realization have been in the works for about four years. “COVID slowed it down, but it gave me an enormous project to focus on when I couldn’t go anywhere. I just always wanted a large-scale installation,” says Fullman. “We came up with funding and I already had the inventory of parts and pieces plus great performers. The whole thing is so impractical I thought I’ll never get a gig so we decided to make a film.” Shooting took place in March of last year at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, Calif., just north of the Bay Area, where all of the artists reside, and the 40-minute film is available online (follow links from ellenfullman.com).
“Elemental View” made its debut before a live audience in April at the Rewire Festival in the Netherlands. This will be the first performance since then. Should other venues be interested, Fullman provides a thorough list of technical requirements, plus photos and diagrams and a timeline, which starts with a day for unloading and installation followed by six more days of “stringing, tensioning, and tuning.” Tickets are $15-$20 and available at: EMPAC.rpi.edu