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drsných tanců od Dana Senna
An audiobook of 29 Fayfer Harp improvisations.

The Third Book of Rugged Dances
 is collection of improvisations recorded at Shy Anne Studio in Tacoma, WA, on May 15, 2001. The instrument performed, a Fayfer Harp, was invented ci. 1990 in Muncie, IN while an Associate Professor of Music at Ball State University. Before this recording session I had traveled for years across
Northern Europe, the USA, even New Zealand, with the Fayfer and other nonlinear, sculptural instruments of mine while not giving much thought to being a “free improviser.” This, perhaps, was because these instruments were designed to be opague and thus an obstacle to group improvisations with traditional instruments designed to be transparent. These functioned more as "scores" as they strictly, obstinately limited the sonic landscape available to a performer. You cannot play Dixie on a Fayfer Harp unless it first agrees—anthropomorphisms unavoidable.

Traditional instruments, again, are designed to be transparent. One resisting this is considered poor, broken, inefficient or opaque. Cage's prepared pianos altered this perception some while remaining accessible from an ivory panel. A good aunt and uncle of mine, living in the hills of southeastern Minnesota, owned an upright piano positioned in their living room. It was not playable and kept to project a cultured milieu.

Inventing the Fayfer Harp, I began with a decorative pewter leaf with beautiful overtones when tapped or bowed. So, I suspended the leaf on 8 pound nylon line in a four post frame built from PVC pipe. Two lines threaded the leaf at four points via threaded piezo mics that amplified and roughly tuned the instrument. A 3 foot steel rod pierced the middle of the pewter resonator and further attached o a 2 pound weight beneath the leaf, a flared piece of brass screwed to the top. The instrument was played by inserting a finger of one hand into this flare (prevented muting) while bowing the rod and other parts of the Fayfer. The PVC posts were enhanced by thin pine dowels that could also be pulled or struck in performance.

The Fayfer, like my other sculptural instruments, were directly inspired by my work in raku pottery, an ancient Japanese art form that purposefully uses difficult-to-control materials and procedures to inhibit control of a medium. My studies in raku, beginning in 1971, dramatically shifted my aesthetics in music and art and would eventually find kinship with the work of John Cage and the fluxes movement. To appreciate my work to this day in all areas, these roots and concepts must be understood.

The recordings here were made in a day, not unlike the tradition of a raku firing where prepared pots are quickly, ritually fired in a flimsy, unstable kiln—where the success rate is not high. Not all the sonic artifacts from this May 15th session are presented here either. These 29 tracks have survived not only the original sonic firing but 23 years of dusty storage.

Over the years, bits and pieces of these works have been used in third generation improvs, fixed electronic works, video accompaniment, etc. But for recent experiences here in Prague, these files may have been lost or tossed. As such they have been recovered, and now more than ever, explain my current discomfort with a freakishly narcissistic society. The rhythms are rugged. The pitches found and untempered by a resistant artifice. They are spontaneous audio traces by a western trained musician moving awkwardly through a terrain of obstacles resistant to control. A planned performance bout resulting in a dislocated will. An altered aesthetic impacting an ever shifting view of what is beautiful. A renewed cognition of the ugliness of kitsch as it clownishly seeks complete control. An aesthetic that represses virtuosity and self importance while lifting and exposing the same.

A weakness I have is that after improvising as such, where I have not consciously considered political or emotional meaning, is that the finished work begins to uncontrollably take on metaphorphic connections. Removed from the moment, one is reminded of things. A work thus takes on symbolisms and this is as it should be as the performer begins the transition to listener status. And yet, after all my whining of kitsch in art, this for many years, I often find it impossible to keep from retrofitting a meaningful metaphor. "This may assist some in listening", I rationalize, but I fear it is destructive and quite obviously hypocritical. I could just as easily call a track "#14" instead of pegging an image that had no apparent weight at conception. I apologize for this. In The Third Book of Rugged Dances, with some effort, I have restrained myself.


Chapter One - Plicks


        Chapter Three - Pumps


With this in mind, and many years after performing and recording these tracks, I now hear the drama, even the trauma, of my life at that time. As a daily writer of words, my hand written journals now scanned and easily accessible, I returned to the day and week these files were generated to find a breif note “improvising today” surrounded by pages of domestic matters. Again, this is an example of the contradiction of art meant only to be trace of the task at hand, one bereft of emotion as performances are indelibly attached to process and everything else.

Art that targets audiences with righteous angst will always override method and materials and will, ironically, limit its power and breadth. And yet, in 2024, to speak this truth to colleagues and students is to be booed off the stage. Oh well, I am exaggerating. To follow another course, like that of Cage, however, is to beg for social and personal isolation. Emotional art demands a narrow interpretation, and as this tact in variation has noble practitioners, as exemplified in Vaclav Havel’s plays, as pure art it runs a higher risk of falling from the attic shelf in time, recovery impossible.

 The sound files here may be performed one at a time or as part of a mixed stereo improvisation as I have done for many years in the studio and in concert. Head phones or a larger sound system are necessary. Google Chrome offers easy amplitude controls. The tracks may be accompanied by song or speech. They may accompany dance, instruments or brushing one’s teeth. In any case, they are artifacts that parallel the aesthetic of raku. DS 031524 Prague

Dan Senn (Prague-Watertown) is an intermedia artist working in music composition and production, kinetic sound sculpture, experimental and documentary film. He has been a professor of music and art in the United States and Australia and travels internationally as a lecturer, performer and installation artist. He lives in Prague where he directs the Echofluxx festivals, and Watertown, Wisconsin, the USA, with his partner-collaborator, Caroline Senn. Dan's work moves freely between expressive extremes and languages depending upon the aesthetic joust at hand. Dan is cofounder of Roulette Intermedium in New York City, Cascadia Composers of Portland Oregon, and the Echofluxx media festivals in Prague. (read more).

Chapter Two - Bows


Chapter Four - Buzzes


Fayfer Harp in 1992+
Commerce Street Studio, Tacoma, WA.