Ellen Fullman and the long string instrument – A desire to connect in solitude


“Learn to love solitude,” said Andrei Tarkovsky as an example of resilience. That sophisticated process of learning and enjoying being with yourself. During these thirty-five days of solitude, my body and my head have become receptors of eclectic experiences.

The mood swings are constant and acute episodes of mental sensitivity have led me to believe that I am losing my mind. Sometimes it is an absolute absence of energy —As if your body decided to stop working. Other times, everything vibrates like sticks glowing in the dark.

This week, I have seen strings, invisible connections, as everyday metaphors: Hanging your clothes and listen to the breeze between the fabric and the ropes. Imagining the buzzing vibration of the train lines as it passes. Visualising my nervous system sending information from one point to another, glimpsing my bloodstream carrying life.

It feels like sharp ideas coming from electric towers. You tune in with too much information at the same time. You vibrate in unison. You resonate.

The strings led me to investigate the work of Ellen Fullman, a minimalist composer born in Memphis, USA. She is known for building the Long String Instrument, a 21-meter long string structure as an item to define “the reality of space”. The tone that comes from the instrument is so low that it is similar to the one in upper electricity cables for trains. Depending on the voltage and duration, sounds can generate short reverbs or long echoes producing frequencies that act like renegade ghosts of vibrant light and wandering reflections.

Ellen‘s work has been associated with big names in minimalism and avant-garde such as Pauline Oliveros and Terry Riley, who used to call her “the strings lady.”

“I met Ellen in 1980 at the New Music American festival in Minneapolis. She was wearing a pleated metal skirt with wires that were attached to her ankles so that when she walked along, the strings were plucked and sounding. She called the piece ‘Street Walker'”Pauline Oliveros.

Her discography is diverse, but her uses of the strings, as a means of creation, is constant. From the release of her debut album The Long String Instrument (1985) and her robust follow-up with In The Sea (1987), to her numerous collaborations, including Suspended Music (1997) with the Deep Listening Band (DLB) by Pauline Oliveros, or her more contemporary productions such as Ort (2004) with Konrad Sprenger and Through Glass Panes (2011).

Ellen‘s approach to the subtle vibrations of the strings and their relationship to space is the perfect analogy for the delicate interaction that we have with who we are and those we love.

It is now, amidst the confinement, that we seek to connect. This is where the strings become emotional. It is a constant need to ground ourselves —strings as roots. Or try to make sense of this peculiar intermediate state by translating and understanding the reality as vivid epiphanies.

During some phases of this awakening, the connections are too cerebral, almost cosmic, making me unable to empathise with the world. Sometimes the bonds just vibrate in low but persistent tones. Other times, they reverberate and bounce as long echoes while others strike me like lightning.

The majority of our relationships are like resonances with harmonics hanging in the air, allowing us to savour the intervals and delay the time. When I listen to  In The Sea, I think of a quote by Jacks McNamara, “Memories feel like déjà vu happening underwater a long time ago.”

Accessing that sensitive space is a beautiful gift, albeit a dark and painful one. It is a process of reconciliation. You learn to make peace with your patterns, the movement of your body and the vibration of your thoughts.

It is navigating between altered states of brilliance and madness. Hypersensitivity and extreme fragility. It is as if you bounced between strings attempting to frame your reality while seeking connections in this long string instrument that is life.


Published by Cherry Adam

Moody experimentalist. Hypersensitive & Noir moments Poetry, Essays & Sound Experimentation Freelance Music Journalist

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