The Long String Instrument

Ellen Fullman, 1985

Over the years, a number of people have toyed with the idea of, essentially, a string-version of a pipe organ. Proper church organs work on the principle that the secondary resonating chamber of the instrument is the church—the building itself. From Alvin Lucier to Ellen Fullman to (more recently) Eli Kezler, people have been setting up installations, stringing wire across great expanses in order to actuate an entire room.

There are many ways to get them to sing, from Lucier's oscillators to Kezler's robotic hammers, but to say Ellen Fullman took a more traditional tack seems diminutive. Sure, her versions could be actively played as an instrument—which doesn't seem nearly as future-proof as robots—but it does introduce that mercurial element of human interaction.

This album, so descriptively titled, The Long String Instrument, is a classic recording from her site-specific installation's early life in 1985. In that, it seems demonstrative at times, showcasing isolated performance aspects of the instrument. Compare this with her collaboration with Pauline Oliveros and the Deep Listening Band more than a decade later and the methods are clearly more evolved. This is not to say it detracts from the impact of this album in the slightest. The monstrous hum of it all, when a drone gets a head of steam up, is so deliciously alive with overtones, precious few electronic artists could hope to compete.