Cleveland Museum of Arts’ Performing Arts Series Opens with Ellen Furman and the “Long String Instrument”

by Mike Telin

Ever since the Cleveland Museum of Art began presenting concerts in the Transformer Station, Tom Welsh, director of CMA’s Performing Arts series, has carefully curated programs that celebrate the art of improvisation and musical experimentation. This week’s series-opening concerts are no exception. Beginning on Thursday, September 24 at 7:30 pm, composer Ellen Fullman will make her Cleveland debut at Transformer Station with her “Long String Instrument.” The concert, titled “Foghorns,” is a collaboration with composer, cellist, and vocalist Theresa Wong. (The program will be repeated on Friday and Saturday, September 25 and 26 at 7:30 pm.)

The concerts represent more than 30 years of work-in-progress for Fullman, who over time has created her own unique sound world. In the spirit of music expressing what words cannot, click here to listen to examples of the haunting sounds of an instrument described as “an installation of dozens of wires 50 feet or longer tuned in just intonation and ‘bowed’ with rosin-coated fingers.”

“‘Foghorns’ is a one-hour work in five movements which Theresa and I approached by taking the cello out of the traditional classical style and thinking of it as a resonating body,” Fullman said during a telephone conversation. “The piece is generated from a series of harmonics produced by the cello, although we are not sticking to the standard harmonics that are common in classical repertoire. Theresa will also use software that allows her to add layers of sound.” Fullman added that she and Wong are taking musical cues from the works of bassist Mark Dresser and the sounds produced by the Chinese “philosophers’ instrument” the guqin. She also pointed out that because the work is based on improvisation, it is slightly different every time.

Since the creation of the instrument Fullman has had to overcome certain technical hurdles to make the instrument more functional. “In the beginning I was amazed by the sound the instrument produced, but I could not tune it. I thought that if I could do that, I could play chords.”

Fullman also had to figure out how to change the lengths of the strings. “Today I use custom-designed clips, but at the beginning I worked with off-the-shelf C-clamps to stop the strings from vibrating. The problem was that the C-clamps needed to weigh two to two and a half ounces to stop the wave, because if it was smaller, a portion would continue to vibrate. Once I got it tuned, the instrument began to produce a wonderful ethereal quality which hooked me.” Read the entire article on