Many Pairs Sounding an installation by Dan Senn a review by Seth Nehil

Portland Art Center 

"Many Pairs Sounding", Dan Senn's new sound-sculpture in the Light and Sound Gallery at the Portland Art Center is a deceptively simple yet absorbing piece which breaks free of many of the formal constraints of sound-art. While he has shown extensively in Europe, this is Senn's first exhibition in the Portland area, where he lives. In a brightly illuminated white room, 16 pvc tubes stand upright in a bed of hay, fragrant in a barnyard kind of way. Each tube is about 3 feet tall and capped with a plain folded piece of white paper which seems both fragile and extremely casual. Driven by subsonic pulses emitted by speaker cones at their bases, the pieces of paper flap and rattle in precisely-controlled and composed patterns. These tubes become strangely anthropomorphic, like a choir of awkward animals, while also quite formal in their rigid simplicity. The length of each tube determines a basic resonant frequency, which is then varied by the frequency of the inaudible pulse fed into the speaker. Working with these parameters, Senn creates a polyphonic composition full of harmonic richness, dramatic pauses and spatial movement. "Many Pairs Sounding" is refreshing in its lack of pretension. Eight cd players sit in a plastic crate in the corner of the room, and the materials bear all the traces of their commonplace origins. This contrasts all the more with the elegant control of sonic composition. As a long line of people made their way into the narrow space, they would often react with a bemused smile followed by a quizzical smirk or frown. The work's mechanism appears to be entirely accessible yet is animated by a hidden force, a theme that runs throughout Senn's many installations which use common and unadorned materials such as carefully balanced chopsticks and soda bottles filled with popcorn. How can such simple objects create such complex music? This is the wonder of "Many Pairs Sounding".

Seth Nehil 1/07

 January 4-27, 2007


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