Raven Chacon’s Sound-and-Art Symphony at Swiss Institute

As to the work’s duration and execution, the only directions Chacon gives are that it should run “at least 13 minutes” and be performed by “any number of musicians with any number of non-musicians.” Indeed, one of Chacon’s guiding principles is that much of his work be available to amateur performers. A 2005 Yoko Ono-like work titled “Scream Out of Each Window” is an example. It exists in the show only as a takeaway printed text, which reads in full:

For a family to perform,

For as long as they want,

In a tall building,

On different levels, toward the same direction,

Scream out of each window.

And, in fact, versions of this piece are likely being performed — as life, not as art — in New York City neighborhoods every day.

Scores like this one bring to mind the work of the pioneering composer John Cage, to whom most sound artists, including Chacon, are indebted. But there’s a dimension to Chacon’s output — I’ll call it the Indigenous dimension — that sets him on a wide track entirely his own, and that’s what this survey — organized by Stefanie Hessler, director of Swiss Institute, and Alison Coplan, chief curator — reveals. Politically, it can be a dark dimension, but in Chacon’s art it is also warmed — socially and spiritually — by hope.

A beautiful 2015 sound-and-object installation in the show, “Still Life No. 3,” recounts the Navajo creation story, both in texts engraved on glass panels and as recited by a woman in an audio recording. The words on the glass panels are fixed. In Navajo and in English they say what they say. In a woman’s recitation, however, played with asynchronous timing through multiple speakers, elements of the story of birth and fruitfulness, of a people coming into being, overlap and repeat, to create a narrative that is perpetually moving out of the past, into the present, and forward into the future.

Raven Chacon: A Worm’s Eye View From a Bird’s Beak

Through April 14 at Swiss Institute, 38 St. Marks Place; Manhattan; (212) 925-2035, swissinstitute.net. (Chacon will present a solo improvisational noise work, “Knowledge of Wounds” at Performance Space New York, a few blocks from Swiss Institute, on Feb 15.)

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