The Return of Ellen Fullman & The Long String Instrument

The Bay Area composer performs with Austin's New Music Co-op

Ellen Fullman, playing the Long String Instrument
Ellen Fullman, playing the Long String Instrument

1. Ellen Fullman musically transformed a former candy factory on Austin's Eastside in the early Nineties, converting the entire space into a sonic chamber with herself and others walking among and manipulating the 100-foot-long wires of her now-legendary Instrument.

2. Austin's New Music Co-op has been transforming music itself since 2001.

3. Ellen Fullman, who'd eventually made her way to settle in California's Bay Area, returned to play the Long String Instrument at Seaholm Power Plant in 2010 and UT's Battle Hall in 2011.

And now: Fullman is back again, abetted by the New Music Co-op and a grant from New Music USA, this time to tune her wires above the hardwood floors of our city's historic Saengerrunde Hall, turning the building into one beautifully resonant, room-sized instrument.

And that'll happen on Friday and Saturday night, August 14 & 15, at 8pm.

But what's it sound like, this Long String Instrument?

As we said in our coverage of the 2010 concert, it's "like a chorus of Buddhist monks, chanting at the bottom of a vast cavern. Like a chorus of triple-lunged, robotic Buddhist monks, their voices humming and thrumming to fill acoustic space with shifting drones that might emanate from their creator's soul."

Even knowing that it can't precisely capture the eerie beauty of what the Instrument provides, we stand by that description.

And, standing by Fullman, at times accompanying the composer, will be artists from the New Music Co-op, playing both original and traditional instruments. Among those artists will be NMC director Travis Weller, who we recently spoke with about this upcoming show.

Austin Chronicle: Are any new compositions going to be premiered at this Saengerrunde Hall gig?

Travis Weller: It’s all new work. Ellen and I have done a number of programs together, but most of them have been either playing stuff that’s already been written in the past – at Seaholm, we performed some stuff that she had written for the Kronos String Quartet – or stuff that’s mainly improvisatory. But for this project, we wanted to write new music that’s more repeatable, a composition in itself that’s new to the program. We’ve been trading recordings back and forth and writing stuff – and it’ll finally all come together in the week that she’s here, doing rehearsals.

AC: And is that Owl thing going to be part of it, too? That instrument you designed and built yourself?

TW: Yeah, the Owl will be there. We’ve had a lot of luck in working with the Owl and the Long String Instrument, because the Long String is in a completely different tuning system than other stringed instruments, and the Owl can be tuned to whatever. We’ll also have a couple of traditional instruments – violin and viola – and some other instruments that are kind of related to the Owl. Other piano-wire instruments, like this thing I call a skiff.

AC: A … skiff?

TW: It looks kind of like a boat. It’s skinnier than the Owl and has a square, tubular resonance chamber, but it works along the same general lines as the Owl – with high-tension piano wire on a steel frame.

AC: And why did y'all choose Saengerrunde Hall for this performance?

TW: I’ve been to performances there in the past, and I’ve always thought it was a really neat space. The point of Saengerrunde Hall was, for years and years, to be a hall for German singing, so it's a great-sounding venue, too. But it kind of becomes a question of practicality with Ellen, because you have this really loooooooong instrument that just doesn’t fit everywhere. So you go where you can find the space.

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