In the early 1980s, Ellen Fullman began developing the “Long String Instrument,” stringing tuned piano wire across her Brooklyn studio…. [C]omparisons, like “standing inside an enormous grand piano,” don’t quite convey the symbiosis between Fullman’s instrument and her way of playing it. It’s true, the audience is sitting in a room with seventy 80-foot, precisely tuned wires strung across it, but the comparison seems to fall apart when you realize you’ve never quite heard a piano that sounds like this. Instead of playing digitally, Fullman’s playing seems to live on the threshold of audibility. The on/off of the piano seems distant — can a light brush on a single string be counted as a “note,” in the same way that pressing a key constitutes a note?

The careful tuning of the strings causes sympathetic resonances among them. The wire is strung between resonator boxes made of Sitka spruce, built by a harp builder, and the sound is entirely acoustic. This setup, which on the surface seems simple, like a giant guitar with no frets or a harp with no pedals, creates infinitely complex resonances and acoustic effects. In a resonant space, the line between the instrument sounding and not sounding could be blurred.


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