Monday, January 16, 2006

An evening with the Long String Instrument

Last night Paul and I went to Casaninja in Berkeley to hear a concert. It was the first in a series featuring the Long String Instrument. It was my first time hearing it. I had seen it before a couple of times, since it's been in residence at Casaninja.

The Long String Instrument was invented by composer Ellen Fullman, who also performs on it. The instrument takes up the whole length of the ground floor space at Casaninja. It has two sets of strings, 22 on one side and 20 on the other side (if I counted right). There is a space between the sets of strings for Ellen to walk while she plays the strings with her fingers. The strings are so long that an extension had to be built on Casaninja to hold the whole instrument.

The room is long and narrow so the two rows of audience seats were very close to the instrument. I was no more than a foot and a half away in my front row seat. There was a small stage behind the strings where trombonist Monique Buzzarte stood and improvised along with Ellen.

The Long String Instrument sounds like...a string quartet playing in close harmony and/or dissonance; a sitar; and an accordion recorded and played back in reverse. It's got a wide dynamic range from whispery to very loud. It gets so loud you would think it's amplified, but it isn't. All the sound comes from the wooden resonance chambers at one end of the instrument.

Monique Buzzarte, based in New York, was a sensitive improviser who contributed mournful long notes, low growls, and rushing air effects. The long, droning accompaniment could have been meditative but it didn't trance me out at all, since the sight of Ellen playing was so riveting. She plays with a slow burning relentless intensity.

I spoke to Monique after the concert and she said that she had seen the Long String Instrument played in another venue where it was nearly twice as long. She said in that concert she heard a lot more low frequencies than at Casaninja.

Here's a web site where you can learn more:

I enjoyed being back at Casaninja. It belongs to my friend Celeste and even when she's not around, you can still feel her energy.


Sharon Floyd said...

Hello Polly,

My students are studying the physics of sound and this instrument would fascinate them. One of their questions today was: Can you make a very large instrument break the law of pitch and make it make high notes? They are thinking.


Polly Moller said...

I would say definitely yes! The Long String Instrument makes layers of overtones on top of the low, low fundamental each long string makes. Some of the notes in the top of the series were pretty high!