Ellen Fullman, "In The Sea"
Ellen Fullman's drones are as massive as the custom instruments that she creates this tremendous music on. She is known for her 70-foot Long String instrument, tuned in just intonation and played with rosin-coated fingers. At first listen, it's a monolithic block of sound, stretching out into seeming infinity. But on closer inspection, there are many subtleties of pitch, dynamics, and surround sound that captivate and maintain interest.
In the Sea was originally self-released by Fullman on cassette in 1987, both sides have been significantly shortened for this double LP issue. Side A, the title track, folds and unfolds just like a body of water, with dissonances in its depths and joyful sunshine striking its crests. It ebbs and flows, crashing against its shoreline with a new pause, a new phrase, a new sweep of sound as big as the ocean. In "Staggered Stasis," side B of the original cassette and this LP, there is a wall of sound with features as varied and beautiful as an abstract painting, never ending but always changing in tiny ways. It evokes a space as dense and warm as the womb, or as large and striking as the grand canyon. There are beating notes neighboring each other even as there are high harmonics atop deep bass strings. It roils and bubbles in the midtones like a boiling pot of water, and for all its "stasis" it manages to somersault along briskly.
Sides C and D on the album are from other sources and, as such, are both very distinct from the first half of the album. "Work For Four Players And 90 Strings" was a cassette release of its own in 1987 while "Work For Two" is a previously unreleased recording from 1988. Both are presented in edited excerpts. Each sweep the senses with washes of sound, strokes across the musical spectrum like streaks of watercolor. Whereas In the Sea (the first record) is about movement in stasis, these two pieces are busy with huge evolutions of sound and broad ranges of changing palettes. Consider this as chamber music superimposed on a drone instrument, and it has all the dynamism of such. The beauty of these two concluding pieces is that of dappled light moving and shifting while peeking through tree branches on a bright sunny day.
This is drone music that is easy to listen to, a direct descendant of Terry Riley's cult of the beautiful. With its one of a kind instrumentation, it is unlike anything else in recorded music. It is pleasant, lulling, and rich enough to spark emotion. It is a lovely document from a well known luminary in the field.