Ellen Fullman is not just a composer. She's also a performer, installation artist, choreographer, instrument-maker, and music theorist. Lest that list sound too academic, let me add that the compositions she writes for the instrument she invented, the Long String Instrument, are eerily lovely and airily enveloping, like a blanket made of stars.
Fullman has been developing ways to play and ways to tweak her Long String Instrument since 1981. It's stage-sized, a collection of finely-tuned bronze strings stretched across a room at waist-height. Fullman and other musicians walk alongside the strings, running their hands down them to create chords and rich overtones that dissolve into each other as the musicians move through the instrument. The result is a choreographed performance of slow, textured songs that reverberate through the room.
Trained in North Indian singing, Fullman draws warm, droning tones out of the strings. She also cites her childhood in Memphis, listening to the Delta blues, as an influence, and you can hear it in the simple melodies that peek out through the overtones. Her compositions are full of slow changes and weaving chords, low rumbles and light hums. The overall effect feels bigger than the room. Fullman has said she wants her music to be "as elemental as the weather."
Ellen Fullman wraps up a month-long residency at the Berkeley Art Museum with a performance Friday, December 4, 2009. She'll be playing previously recorded pieces, including a solo with video projections, so the audience can see up-close what she's doing while she plays. The concert is part of the Berkeley Art Museum's Friday night L@TE series; the galleries are open late and the museum brings in DJs, a bar, and hosts various performances and events.
Ellen Fullman performs on December 4, 2009 at the Berkeley Art Museum. For tickets and information visit bampfa.berkeley.edu.