Raven Chacon composes, collaborates and complicates the conversation 

click to enlarge GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
We’ve never spoken before, but seven years ago, I saw Raven Chacon perform at a church-turned-venue he ran in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as part of his band, Tenderizor. Usually, he tells me, they play thrash metal, but now and again they’d swap guitars for petite Roland keyboards and do an experimental music set, like what I saw. The set was hypnotic, almost spiritual, with four men kneeling on the ground over synths and distortion pedals, circling the wiry, long-haired drummer, who locked himself trance-like into a pocket.

Chacon, a New Mexico native, has been making music since childhood, starting with piano lessons. Since, he’s earned two degrees in music composition: a BA from the University of New Mexico, and an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts. The Albuquerque music scene, we concur, feels something like an oasis in the desert — isolated, but rich.

“You’ve got this city in the crosshairs of where two major highways [I-25 and I-40] bisect,” he says. “It surely is a stop on a touring route for musicians, probably since Route 66 was there.”

Currently, he’s acting as the Fine Arts Center at Colorado College’s first Andrew W. Mellon artist in residence. He also has a solo exhibition up, called Lightning Speak. For the works therein, he initiated or composed much of the music, but in many cases, it didn’t come alive until other people performed it.

“A lot of those works, by their design, have to be collaborative, and in some cases, were co-authored by other people,” he says. That’s clear in “Gauge,” which Chacon describes as Lightning Speak’s centerpiece work. Chacon was brought in on the project as a composer by artists Danny Osbourne, Alexa Hatanaka, Patrick Thompson, Sarah McNair-Landry, Eric McNair-Landry and Erik Boomer. The time-lapse footage presented at the FAC shows the artists painting the side of walls of ice as they rise with the tide, their creations lasting only a single tidal cycle.

“I was trying to, through field recordings, have that content describe what was happening out there off the coast of Baffin Island [in Nunavut, Canada],” he says.
“Even though my work is interdisciplinary — it’s using video and sound installation and more sculptural elements — ultimately, a lot of what is shown [in Lightning Speak] is going back to my main interest, which is scores.”

The exhibit includes notation for a percussive ensemble of various firearms, an intimate duet consisting solely of rests, and a wall of abstract musical scores that mixes indigenous imagery with western musical notation.

Chacon’s also in a second exhibition at the FAC right now: A Very Long Line was produced by the art collective Postcommodity, which consists of Chacon, Kade L. Twist and Cristóbal Martínez. Postcommodity is an interdisciplinary indigenous American collective — Chacon’s Navajo — built to make conceptual artwork that speaks to contemporary issues.

“We’re not seeking to solve those contemporary issues, but to mediate complexity... to complicate [the] discourse behind those issues,” he says.

A Very Long Line consists of audio and video taken while Postcommodity was building another work, “Repellent Fence,” along the U.S.-Mexico border. The video shows the existing border fence, pictured from the U.S. side. It’s projected onto all four walls of the room, both disorienting and confining, “perhaps with the potential violence this wall imposes on its citizens,” Chacon says.

“That term would imply the policies of surveillance, of scrutiny, that we think we’re imposing on those who are trying to enter the country,” he explains, “but those losing their immediate rights are the citizens of the country.” Heavy militarization of the border, he says as an example, more immediately affects Americans, especially Mexican-Americans and indigenous citizens.


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