In life there are certain truths: What goes up must come down, all's fair in love and war, a stitch in time saves nine and one who makes a synthesizer out of a cougar pelt is wicked awesome. Musician, teacher and installation artist Raven Chacon is familiar with the latter, having made just that as part of a Winnipeg-based project by his interdisciplinary American Indian arts collective, Postcommodity. When the piece is pet, the pelt synth purrs, and when it’s twisted it raars. The group also fashioned an antler cello and antler harp, and made a drum from a boar bladder and a coffee can. The instruments, says Chacon, are meant to be played by a futuristic tribe representing the last of its culture.
Conceptual art such as this is Chacon's forte. About 15 years ago he began putting on small noise concerts on the West Mesa, and 10 years ago started the micro label Sicksicksick as a means to curate the region and uncover “embedded local-sound-mythologies.” He plays solo in various capacities—chamber music, electro-acoustic noise, folk—and is in multiple bands including Death Convention Singers (formerly cobra//group), Tenderizor and Mesa Ritual. Chacon is generally regarded as the godfather of Albuquerque’s noise scene, and is responsible for helping found DIY music spaces like the Coalmine.
In addition to his work with Postcommodity—which will open a three-part installation on Aug. 19 at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts as part of Santa Fe's 400-year anniversary—Chacon is involved in what seems like dozens of other projects. In April he was featured on an episode of NPR's "Performance Today" for his work with the Native American Composers Apprenticeship Project, wherein he teaches kids at reservation schools how to make noise on classical instruments. His students write pieces for ETHEL, a string quartet from New York City, which plays their music at the Grand Canyon every year.
Last month, Chacon stopped by my office for a chat. Below are excerpts from our conversation.
On his recent solo release, an LP titled At the point where the rivers crossed we drew our knives: "I got my master's degree in music composition—so there's that academic side that might be associated with the Side B of this album, which is chamber music. Side A is kind of the other path I've taken in my career, which is DIY kinds of things."
On DIY music venues: "I think the city has understood that these kind of places, they're musical galleries. I know that Albuquerque would like to be, if we could, full of galleries and places to exhibit, and it's easy to forget that sound needs that kind of place too. So it's not necessarily just a venue."
On why DIY music spaces and new music have popped up: "What's happening now is a reaction to what's happening in bars, and bands people like not coming through town. Sometimes you're just playing for your friends so you can make up your own style of music."
On whether the underground music scene is avant-garde: "I'd like to think it wasn't, because then that's making some teenage girl here in town say, I can't do that, that sounds hard."
On the Native American Composers Apprenticeship Project: "I simply want to see what happens when Indian kids who have some understanding of their own traditional music cut out the middle man—classical music—and immediately start making thoughtful (or not) noise without that particular distraction."
On his band Tenderizor: "We recognize metal as being a contributing influence to noise that we like, so that's how this project came about. I don't have an opinion on metal being made these days. I guess I just don't like it. Metal's got its own scene, but this is old thrash with some Iron Maiden kind of glory in it. Medieval songs about knights and stuff."
On how people receive his music: "I hope that, especially in Death Convention Singers and my solo work, that there's a regional sound that's captured. That when somebody hears it, they can tell, you know, maybe this was made in New Mexico, or in the desert, or in the Southwest."
On our city’s sound: “If I were to say there's an Albuquerque sound, I notice that there's a lot of interesting time-stretching. It still has this noise flavor to it—or involves these noise setups which could be anything from a random guitar pedals and microphones to using real instruments. There's a lot of interesting musicians and artists in town who are stretching time in extreme ways, and maybe somebody could say that that's because there's so much space between each city out here, and people drive a lot more. You kind of equate that. It's not real busy music all the time. Some of this nice music that I think is being made right now is like that—really long and sparse."