Ellen Fullman - Through Glass Panes
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Ellen Fullman is quite a lady. Having invented her own instrument, the 21 metre "long stringed instrument" - which is played by rubbing the strings with rosin coated hands, and part of the experimental music avant garde, much covered and admired by Wire magazine, she has played with Pauline Oliveros' infamous Deep Listening Band, Dutch sound art-ist Paul Panhuysen and the Kronos Quartet amongst others. Her influence can be heard in the work of many modern classical, ambient and drone artists operating today, such as Richard Skelton, or Erik Skodwin for example. Her recent split release with the mysterious electronic outfit 'Eleh', also on Important Records, reiterates the importance and timelessness of her work.
Named after Margaret Rabb's poem (from the book Granite Dives) 'Through Glass Panes' sees Fullman putting to work the long stringed instrument, the metallic rub of the strings on opener 'Never Get Out of Me' is complimented perfectly by electronic treatments similar in intonation to Gareth Hardwicks's Sunday Afternoon - and wavers in the same air bending heat too. Singular sine waves of the mysterious Eleh worked perfectly with Fullmans instrumental setup. Here the instrument seems to emulate the sitar, an instrument with much history behind it. I remember spending one summer listening to Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin 'East Meets West' collaboration on my flat mates' charity shop vinyl and drinking copious amounts of tea. As a first experience of the raga; what struck me was its majestic air, the never-ending shifting forms, and turning pace in the melody and percussions. Owing much to the intonation of the sitar; its metallic twang with lingering notes - a kind of natural decaying drone - the word 'raga' translates literally as 'colour' or 'hue'. Far from being left in the mist of rambling extended pentatonic scales though, there are passages in this, and next track 'Flowers' which touch on beautiful melodies, reached as if discovered through patient meditation. A kind of sonic secret garden. Recordings of birds provide a sweetly tuned back drop that is deeply satisfying.
Through Glass Panes and Event Locations 2 both weigh in at over 20 minutes in length, sitting aside from the preceeding tracks in temperament also - these are more rhythmically focused, and technically structured - acutely centred around Fullman's experiments with keys and tunings systems with a view to incorporate more dissonance in her work. The other difference being that the first two tracks are adapted from Stratified Bands: Last Kind Words - written for Kronos Quartet.
The air then that surrounds Fullmans every work is live, electric and fundamentally humanist - if the computer has a part in the process of these sounds it is certainly not overt and if anything nothing more than a means to an end. In creating an instrument so intrinsically physical, she stamps a freedom of expression, but at the same time removes the importance of the resulting work on the process. If it is by a need for control, for understanding the root of creation then so be it, the output is remarkable, earthy and classical - and yet modern also.
Available on CD from Important Records
Photo credits: Martin Meyer - (Berkeley Art Museum Installation)