In 1981 I began developing the “Long String Instrument,” in which rosin-coated fingers brush across dozens of metallic strings, fifty or more feet in length and installed in a performance space. Listening to the instrument has been compared to the experience of standing inside an enormous grand piano.
The instrument is acoustic. Wooden box resonators are mounted on a wall and twenty to thirty strings terminate into each resonator soundboard. Performers walk between pathways of strings suspended at waist-height. The instrument is played by “bowing” with rosined fingertips while walking. A uniquely designed brass capo on each wire changes the vibrating string length much as a capo on a guitar. Tuned in just intonation, the pitch range is determined by length: A4 (440 Hz, open A string on the violin) requires eight meters in length. Every octave lower requires a doubling of length. These enormous lengths are required when strings are excited in the longitudinal mode, or played by “bowing” lengthwise.
My music explores natural tunings based on the physics of vibrating strings. Through observation, I have determined that there is an optimal “bowing” speed in which string speaks most clearly in the longitudinal mode, presumably based on a relationship to the speed of the wave moving through the material. In the late 1980s I conceived of a graphic notation system that still functions as the basis for scoring my work, where timing and coordination of parts are determined by distance walked. Numbers placed on the floor at metric intervals are used as reference points indicated in the score. Transitions can be coordinated based on the time it takes to arrive at predetermined locations, thereby “choreographing” repeatable events to occur at specific locations. Strings vibrate in mathematical subdivisions of the total string length. When passing over the harmonic nodes of each string, overtones associated with that location emerge. (For example, the perfect 5th interval can be heard at one third and two thirds of the total string length.) By taking into consideration these divisions or nodal points, (where pronounced overtones emerge) musical events can be aligned to coincide with specific overtone combinations.