February 25, 2013

Ellen Fullman in Residence: Long String Instrument

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Most who venture into Milstein Hall’s dome take notice of its distinctive architectural design.  It’s not your classic college building.  Its wave-like structure was put to good use during Ellen Fullman’s Long String Instrument concert on Sunday, in which she used the main expanse of the space to create a sound landscape that no one else could create.  This is because Fullman created not just the performance, but also the instrument itself.

“[Milstein] is kind of like a sculpture,” Fullman said. “It has a wonderful resonance.”Fullman’s main work has been “the development of the Long String Instrument, a 53 to 200-foot string instrument in which rosin-coated fingers brush across dozens of metallic strings, producing a chorus of microtonal organ-like overtones,” according to the College of Architecture, Art and Planning website.   Fullman performed numerous times during her weeklong residency, which began on Feb. 18.  Over the course of the week, Fullman took part in many public events.  These events included a demonstration and question and answer session, an open rehearsal with the Cornell Avant-Garde Ensemble and a film screening of 5 Variations on a Long String by Peter Esmonde, all culminating in two concerts on the final day of Fullman’s residency.  I attended the final concert.It opened with a dedication.  Ellen Fullman and members of CAGE performed a percussion piece while moving around the dome.  The sounds darted all over the building while percussionists walked around and above the main area.  Then, Fullman transitioned to her Long String Instrument and the main performance began.She played the final concert with five other musicians, including guest artist Theresa Wong on the cello and members of CAGE and the Cornell Electroacoustic Music Center.  Fullman said she prefers playing with an ensemble.“I really like combinations that are unpredictable and combinations of different timbres,” Fullman said.The dome was dark with a main light directed at Fullman’s back that illuminated her entire instrument.  The members of CAGE played their instruments alongside, slowly building a wall of sound.  Fullman’s fingers barely skirted the strings while slowly moving forwards and backwards.  “It’s really like bowing,” Fullman said. “To get a good tone out of a bow, it takes a lot of practice, and my fingertips are my bows. I coordinate the speed at which my fingers move to produce a good tone to get the strings to speak.”At points, the soundscape felt heavy and quite scary with deep vibrato, and at other points, the music had an eerie quality. The lighter points in the sound felt ethereal, and when close enough to Fullman, one could see the white rosin slowly fall as her fingers hit the strings.The four-song set spanned over an hour, with the first piece lasting almost a half hour.  The length and quality of the sound makes it hard to call Fullman and CAGE’s pieces songs.  When asked what Fullman would call herself — a musician or a performance artist — she chose her own title: composer.Most people who walked past Milstein Hall stopped to look through the main window at the purely visual spectacle that is the Long String Instrument.  The design of the space helped transport viewers into the soundscape, but even people standing outside who couldn’t hear the music seemed captivated by the performance.  After the dome emptied and Fullman sat down to reflect on the week, she said she had a positive experience while in residence and would have liked to stay longer.“That’s why, at the end of concert, I was coming down to a quiet place, and then I started playing again and came all the way out because I wasn’t quite ready to really say goodbye,” Fullman said.Ellen Fullman’s work, including the performance that led Prof. Kevin Ernste, music, to invite her to perform can be viewed at ellenfullman.com.

Original Author: Nicole Hamilton