The Wire

In Writing

Ellen Fullman's Portal

February 2014

The inventor of the long string instrument joins forces with her partner and collaborator Theresa Wong in selecting her top websites. Fullman is in The Wire 361 Invisible Jukebox, tested on the sounds of treehoppers, Memphis gongs and the search for resonance.

Lab of Ornithology
Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology at the Macaulay Library houses the world's largest collection of wildlife sounds and the entire collection has recently been made available online. We were able to visit in person when we performed at Cornell last February and were given a tour that featured, among other samples, this field recording of a treehopper vibrating a twig of grass to make this amazing sound.

Mahalia Jackson's "Just A Closer Walk With Thee"
Musician, film maker and former tennis player Torben Ulrich and his collaborator Molly Martin introduced us to this video. Partway through this performance it is as if she becomes possessed, transported. I find it very moving every time I see it. This video always reminds me of the feeling I had when Theresa and I were invited to our friend Mary’s church service in Memphis. There were about 20 people in attendance, in the small house converted into a church. The music was great. The piano player held her grandbaby in her lap, sometimes playing with only one hand, and it still sounded good. The lead singer of the church choir is a college student majoring in accounting; she was amazing, powerful. I say “Amen.”

The Memphis Drum Shop
A world class shop, like a museum of percussion, with major operations going on in the back room: a sheet music archive and a very impressive recording studio to produce online samples of every item available in stock. But the most amazing part is the Gong Chamber, housing the world’s largest paiste symphonic gong at over two meters in diameter, with two slightly smaller gongs placed on either side. The owner, Jim Pettit, interviewed us before allowing us access to this room. We must have passed the test of professionalism because he gave a demonstration of the complex interactions among the three gongs, the sound of which created a wind that blew my hair and clothes about!

Power House Productions, Detroit
In March 2013 we performed at Detroit's Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCAD). Jon Brumit, artist and creator of the Sound House, took us on a tour of the city. I still remember the jaw dropping ruin porn, but also, the exhilaration of the accessibility of space and what artists have done with areas of Detroit. The Sound House has monster transducers installed under the floor for playing low frequency electronics that use the entire building as resonator. The walls are covered in calligraphic graffiti by artists Retna and Richard Colman. In the house is a drum kit with an enormous custom built bass drum. Other installation spaces in the neighborhood of Hamtramck (a city within the city of Detroit) include the Squash House, with a squash garden outside and squash court inside, and the Play House, for theatre productions.

Ainu Music
Umeko Ando is considered a diva of Ainu music, created by the indigenous people of northern Japan. I first heard her music when installing my instrument at the Super Deluxe space in Tokyo. I fell in love with this sound. When I later returned to Japan on a fellowship, I was able to study the Ainu tonkori with the now 88 year old Tomoko Tomita. Tomoko, a koto player from Okinawa, lived in Hokkaido during the 1950s, where she came into contact with the Ainu people. She learned tonkori from the masters and preserved their unwritten music using a tablature system that she designed. Now young Ainu come to study with her to reclaim their heritage. Tomoko had stories to tell of the Ainu, including all-night concerts where tonkori players continued playing even while sleeping. All of her transcriptions have now been collected into a small book published in Japan. This sound has filtered into my own work and can be heard in the track, "Through Glass Panes" on Important Records.

Violin Plate Tuning
I was fascinated to learn how the front and back plates of fine handmade violins are carved to achieve tunings, and these tap tones are ones that are not even represented in the tunings of the open strings of the instrument. Amazingly, when the plates are all glued together, however, tapping the instrument produces tones of open string tunings! Wow, how does that happen? I am redesigning my resonators and pursuing this idea in my search for resonance.

Leonardo Music Journal
Nicolas Collins, composer, installation artist, instrument inventor and editor of LMJ, invited me to write an article that was published in November 2012 and is available as a free download on the Leonardo site. Writing this article was a great opportunity for me in clarifying my thoughts on my work. This publication is a rich resource for those interested in the borderlines between music and science.

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