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CD Feature/ Ellen Fullman + Sean Meehan: "s/t"

img  Tobias

Mesmerising and intriguing from the outside, tingling optical, haptic and oligofactoric senses alike, the releases on Jason Kahn’s cut label consist of simple, yet robust cardboard at their core. In that regard, this album has a lot in common with its packaging: The music of Ellen Fullman and Sean Meehan may sound astoundingly rich and perplexingly detailed, but really bases on a few pure and simple principles: Resonance, harmony as well as spontaneous interaction between these two musicians. And yet it is not the canvas or the colours that make the painting, but the strokes of the brush in the hand of the artist.

What therefore matters with regard to the work at hand is less how it was made than what the creative process resulted in. I am stressing this, as the story of how the album was recorded is certainly interesting enough to warrant an article of its own. On the one hand, we have Ellen Fullmann, whose career in music, as the annecdote has it, was started at the age of one, when a certain Elvis Presley kissed her hand (no further details given). An accidental personal experience brought up the idea of the “long string instrument”, a set of waist high, parallel wires stretching for up to almost 22 metres in total, capable of producing sonorous and penetrating drones through wooden box resonators (exact details on her website or in Kahn’s press release). The instrument is played by quickly running from one end of the apparatus to the other, plucking the right string at the right point as precisely as if it were a violin. For this record, she stayed at home in her studio, with the strings “running through the patio door and terminating in the backyard” with the increased length enabling her to make use of “an additional octave”, as she points out. Sean Meehan, on the other hand, has developed his own style of drumming by playing the snare drum with cymbals or rubbing a dowel over the latter to create sustained, floating tones. His biography reads as though it were scribbled on a way too small napkin: “He plays drums. (...) He likes to go for walks and hang around with his friends.”, etc. Meehan was single-handedly responsible for one of the longest threads ever at the Bagatellen blog/WebZine over a minor controvery regarding the artful (or not) presentation of his “Sectors (For Constant)” double disc set, whose packaging needed to be destroyed to be able to hear the music. So this is what this meeting between “longtime friends who had hoped to play together for some time” reads like on paper and it certainly warrants attention. But it doesn’t really tell us anything about the music. You can envisage what it must have looked like, with Ellen pacing up and down her creation and Sean running the dowel over his cymbals, but what really matters is how they lost themselves completely in the process, the way their individual traits merged into something bigger and more universal. The sounds in fact melt together so smoothly, that what results must be perceived as the emanations of a single new instrument. Its timbre stortorous, glistening yet full of microtonal impurities, with a mysterious calmness on the surface and brimming with activity underneath, its tone coloured in different shades of nostalgia and sorrow. If references must be given, it could be a cross-breeding between a harmonium, a sitar and a tuba played by an asthmatic. But no comparison will ever do to describe these almost static sheets of woeful harmonics.

Each of these three pieces captures the same mood from a different angle and explores various aspects of the same phenomenon. The result of this reduced approach, both with regards to its compositional content as well as its timbral facets, is a state of high sensitivity, extreme relaxation and an unusual degree of concentration. Which may give more hints at where these sonic excursions may lead than talking about their creation for all too long. Ellen Fullman and Sean Meehan may not have brought tons of colours or an expensive canvas, but their few brush-strokes are enough to create intense images.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Ellen Fullman
Homepage: Sean Meehan
Homepage: Cut Records

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