Ellen Fullman & Okkyung Lee – The Air Around Her

Photo by Micke Keysendal

The Air Around Her unites two women of two different nations: America and South Korea. Both artists have broken genre-walls, assumptions, and other restrictions, pushing on defiantly in the pursuit of original music. If you had to categorize the music, you’d call it experimental, but both musicians have made extraordinary and profound strides within the world of music, period. Back in 1980, Ellen Fullman invented the Long String Instrument, through a chance discovery of the longitudinal mode of vibration. Her lengthy time in exploring what the instrument’s true capabilities, and spending time in refining its general output, has yielded a sound unlike anything else: sharp, alluring, mystical. On top of this, Fullman has also used wire alloys and gauges, creating sleek and thin sounds with bladed edges. She’s designed wooden resonator boxes and bronze tuning capos, and created a form of notation which defines time by distance walked. She’s studied natural tuning and North Indian vocal music – and a passion for Indian music can be heard in ‘Part I’, where the instrument elongates into a long drone, creating a sound like that of the Tanpura. It’s worth knowing that Fullman has dedicated her life to the instrument: no one else could summon these sounds, creating an album of intense originality.

Okkyung Lee is a cellist, composer, and improviser. Based in New York, Lee’s experimental approach is at the heart of her output, incorporating elements of noise, improvisation, jazz, classical, and Asian traditional music while fusing them together to create music of a striking nature. Born continents apart, and from different cultural backgrounds, both artists share a common denominator: a deep curiosity, bordering on fascination, in the pursuit of experimental sound, and a wholehearted, dedicated approach to experimentation.The Air Around Her was recorded in February 2016, during the First edition Festival for Other Music in Stockholm, Sweden, which took place at Kronobageriet – the former bakery to Swedish Royalty which dates back to the 17th Century. Now, though, it’s home to Stockholm’s Performing Arts Museum. Inside, Fullman’s long string instrument ran along the length of the room, a full 26-metres, going from one side to the other, almost cutting it off with its incisive sound. Lee’s cello work is just as impressive.

Be it in a solo setting or in group improvisation, Lee has extensive experience (she’s appeared on more than 30 albums), and isn’t content with the cello’s more classical renown; those foundations are treated as restrictions and confinements, and her work is the antithesis of confinement. Like Fullman, she doesn’t want to be shackled to a genre. Their exploratory music relates directly to space, responding to the atmosphere of the room, which is always in motion. The atmosphere changes from room to room and night to night, and the sensitive playing picks up on these microscopic mood-fractures; strings shiver as they respond to the changing vibrations in the air. Taking in objects and spaces gives the work an active dynamism, making it more than music and transferring it into a documented piece of the building’s history. In taking an interest in progression and pushing forward to seize the initiative, their music expands until it incorporates and occupies other dimensions. You never know what’s around the next corner, or if there’s a corner at all (their music is more open-ended and spherical). The spacious, non-linear music is a delight. Creaking, groaning, coaxing something out of thin air, but also being radiant and defiant, The Air Around Her is exceptional experimental music, both daring and musically alive.


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