Sonic Circuits V
by Alison Slow Loris, TacomaCityPaper, June 4, 1998


Three free evenings of music, installation and video in a borrowed storefront on Pacific Avenue, formed a miniature festival of experimental sound art last week. Tacoma's own Dan Senn, internationally admired composer and creator of kinetic musical instruments, who is finishing up a year as a UW Tacoma Artist in Residence, brought together recorded music and video from around the world with live performances by the Dutch sound/poetry ensemble Braaxtaal, himself, and his student ensemble Newsense.

Among the students are: a cheerful and talented young woman who clearly views her make-up as a serious art form, a young man who appears to be balding from the sheer intensity of the percussive energy that moves from his brain to his fingers, and a 75 year old nurse and travel agency owner who takes classes, she says, to keep her mind active. Senn, who composes, records in his Tacoma studio, and tours frequently in Europe, is also noted for his sculptural works. Besides setting up temporary arrangements in galleries and museums, he also creates installations for outdoor sites, such as the Sound Garden at Point Defiance, where his Canopy Harp collaborates with the forest environment to create a subtle responsive music.

Household throwaways such as saucepan lids, brass curtain rings and bits of electric fans, combined by his hands, become graceful and mysterious objects, both visual and sonic art. Near the front door of the vacant premises, donated by Pacific Rim Real Estate for the festival, stood a flower bed full of dozens of these. About a yard high, with a metal rod connecting a base and ornamental top, each possessed a set of washers which, when brought to the top of the rod, made their way down slowly, producing subtle raffling and whirring noises like insects among the blossoms.

Response is clearly a major element of Senn's approach to his arts, making him as adept at conjuring music from his students as from the domestic discards out of which he builds musical instruments. The Newsense Cycle that concluded Thursday evening's program was a fine testimony to his excellence as a teacher. Played by the students and composed by four of them, the work was by turns startling, hypnotic, playful and powerful. The audience, apparently composed in equal parts of serious lovers of experimental music and the students, friends and relations, rewarded the piece with a round of warm and well-deserved applause.