Sound Art Workshops by Dan Senn

Workshop Description.

Workshops have been held at universities, summer retreats for high school art students, middle and elementary schools, art museums and galleries, and in my home studio.

Here is a account of a workshop in Idaho.

With a single threaded steel rod in one hand, a round metal washer in the other, and a found metal resonator at my feet. I begin by telling the story of how my Too Lip sculptures were invented, of how new ideas emerge from playfulness and the importance of nurturing a child-like nature. I am surrounded by an installation of 50-100 Too Lips arranged as they would be in a gallery or museum setting. Scattered among the these are 70 Lydes turned on end like mushrooms growing amidst the metallic flowers--their 7-inch mallets lying nearby. The story I tell is about my daughter, Eliane, who at age 6 dropped a metal washer over the threaded rod of my Fayfer Harp. As the washer spun downward along its threaded edges, I was transfixed by its moth-like motion and fluttering sound. With my right hand I then drop the washer over the top of the rod, held it in mid-air and then slowly lowered it onto the resonator, an aluminum candy dish. As the sound is suddenly amplified, I explain how this is the resonance of this dish and that most things have unique and beautiful sounds. Slowly I tip the rod off access to demonstrate how the speed of the flutterings can be slowed and made to skip threads in rhythmic patterns. Setting this aside, I then move into the Too Lip installation, releasing preset washers, some with paper wings, handing them one by one to the workshop members. Minutes later, amidst the din of the many moving Too Lips, I start playing a Lyde, turning its edge like a Tibetan bell to the accompaniment of pre-recorded Lydes. As the rich long textures build, I give my implements to a student and take up another, perform it, and hand it off until all the Too Lips have been replaced by Lydes. The effect is to draw students into the aesthetic process, beyond preconceived notions of what music and art is, to a special place where action precedes language and meaning is replaced by doing. From here, the workshop settles into a survey of the percussive range of the Lydes. In this context, the human voice and body is employed, as well as anything within reach having sound possibilities. Strategies for improvisation continuously evolve with an emphasis on musical texture and process. Wrong notes do not exist. As the workshop develops, instruments are constructed and even invented, but the focus is on improvisation, performance, movement, and the use of acoustical space both in and out-of-doors. Graphic notations are examined as visual artifacts and text-based instructions as poetry. All ideas are valued. If a final public performance is desired, it is carefully integrated into the workshop. As a teacher, my job is to shape, motivate and instigate unencumbered thinking and to, perhaps, discover things anew in the process.