Featured in
Frieze Week New York 2024

Ellen Fullman Brings Her Long String Instrument to Artists Space

Frieze Week New York 2024 offers a rare chance to see Ellen Fullman’s epic room-filling musical installation in action

in Frieze New York , Frieze Week Magazine , Interviews | 01 MAY 24

An array of metal strings stretches across the room from wall to wall. As Ellen Fullman moves slowly between them, running her rosin-covered fingers across them, the sonic vibrations generate rich overtones and drones of intriguing complexity. Witnessing a performance is a transfixing and meditative experience. This is Fullman’s majestic and minimalist Long String Instrument. The musician and composer has been developing and refining it since the early 1980s. It varies in size from around 50 to 100 feet long; its strings are attached to wooden resonator boxes and are tuned in “just intonation”—a system in which all the intervals are ratios of whole numbers.

 Ellen Fullman in her studio, Berkeley, California, 2024. Photograph Ian Bates
Ellen Fullman in her studio, Berkeley, California, 2024. Photography: Ian Bates

The Long String Instrument is as much an art installation as it is a soundmaking device. Fullman, who grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, was steeped in the blues, rock and soul of the South before going to art school in Kansas City to study sculpture. In her last semester there, she created Metal Skirt Sound Sculpture, a pleated garment made of guitar strings and sheet metal, connected to a small amplifier, which she wore for her performance Streetwalker (both 1980).

In 1981, Fullman moved to New York, where she immersed herself in experimental music in the creative ferment of the downtown scene of the early 1980s. “I went a lot to Phill Niblock’s loft, Experimental Intermedia; I went to Roulette Intermedium,” she recalls in our recent conversation. “It was fantastic to be in that community.” On reading Harry Partch’s book Genesis of a Music (1949), she was inspired by the author’s iconoclastic instrument designs and began building her Long String Instrument. Since 1985, she has recorded several albums and collaborated with many composers and groups, including Keiji Haino, the Kronos Quartet, Pauline Oliveros and the Deep Listening Band, and Frances-Marie Uitti.

This spring, Fullman is giving two rare collaborative performances at Artists Space in downtown Manhattan—her first shows in New York since 2013. Now based in California, she says: “I’m looking forward to being in New York. I lived there for five years, so it will feel like coming home.” On April 26, she is performing with the JACK Quartet, a New York-based string ensemble specializing in new music, and on May 3 she is playing with Konrad Sprenger, a pseudonym of the Berlin-based composer and multi-instrumentalist Joerg Hiller. Sprenger and Fullman are longtime collaborators, but the show with the JACK Quartet is a new endeavor. “I have been very excited about working with them because they specialize in just intonation,” Fullman says, “and their sound is really in tune on these unusual intervals. The quartet functions as a kind of extension of the harmony that my instrument is producing.”

EllenFullman_Theo R. Welling  Ellen Fullman performing at New Music Circle, St. Louis  Photo: Theo R. Welling
Ellen Fullman performing at New Music Circle, St. Louis. Photography: Theo R. Welling 

For the concerts, Fullman will be bringing a range of wooden resonator boxes, tuning devices and strings, along with various tools and hardware. “We will mount these components directly to the walls at Artists Space,” she explains. “The strings will be extended from wall to wall and that’s where I will walk.” Both of the pieces are brand-new works, and both are still in progress. “The Long String Instrument at the core, extending out in harmony, is the kind of form I’m interested in,” she says. “The outward movement is performed by other instruments.”

Fullman has been exploring intervals that are beyond conventional Western musical harmonies and has become very interested in extending the harmonic spectrum of The Long String Instrument to the parts that other instruments are playing—including resonances that emerge, seemingly by happenstance. “I’m really interested in sympathetic resonances,” she says, “and how a frequency played by another instrument can trigger timbral changes in my instrument.”

The concerts at Artists Space offer an extraordinary opportunity to see this one-of-a-kind instrument and musician in action. Fullman promises that the shows will be immersive, exploratory experiences. In her words, “It’s going to go to a lot of different places.”

Ellen Fullman performs at Artists Space, New York, USA, on May 3.

Explore the Frieze New York 2024 Program.


Further Information

Frieze New York returns to The Shed, May 1–5, 2024.


Early-bird tickets are sold out. Limited full-price tickets are available to purchase.  


For all the latest news from Frieze, sign up to the newsletter at frieze.com, and follow @friezeofficial on Instagram, Twitter and Frieze Official on Facebook.

Main image: Ellen Fullman in her studio, Berkeley, California, 2024. Photograph Ian Bates