Raven Chacon

Composer and Artist Class of 2023
Portrait of Raven Chacon

Creating musical works that cut across boundaries of visual art and performance to illuminate landscapes, their inhabitants, and histories.

location icon Location
Red Hook, New York
age iconAge
45 at time of award

About Raven’s Work

Raven Chacon is a composer and artist creating musical experiences that explore relationships among sound, space, and people. In an experimental practice that cuts across the boundaries of visual art, performance, and music, Chacon breaks open musical traditions and activates spaces of performance where the histories of the lands the United States has encroached upon can be contemplated, questioned, and reimagined.

Chacon’s compositions often include both orchestral instrumentation and sounds created by performers using objects such as rifles, foghorns, whistles, and coins. He uses a notational language that combines standard Western musical notation with nonmusical symbols, drawings, and written guidelines for interpreting the score. He often displays the visually arresting graphic scores during performances. For instance, Chacon designed the large-scale graphic score of American Ledger (No. 1) (2018) to be displayed on the side of a building, as a flag, or on a billboard. The symbols in the score and the sounds of the performance—the percussive ring of wood chops, the clinking of coins, a police whistle, the amplified striking and blowing out of a match—tell the history of settler colonialism in the United States, from arrival, to the building of cities, to the erasure of Native land and culture. In Sweet Land (2020), an opera he co-composed, Chacon explores this history and the American myth of Manifest Destiny. The opera premiered in a state park, with attendees split into two groups—the Arrivals and the Hosts. The groups are led through two different narratives, told from different perspectives, of American expansion across the continent.

In Voiceless Mass (2021), a work for pipe organ and ensemble, Chacon reflects on the relationship between religion and Indigenous populations. Unlike traditional masses, the piece has no parts for voice, and the sonorities of the strings and woodwinds fill the space of a cathedral. The work gives musical form to the church’s history of silencing Indigenous expression and languages, as well as the impossibility of ever fully recovering voices that have been lost. By bringing experimental sounds informed by Indigenous histories to new audiences in accessible ways, Chacon reconceptualizes what music is and can be.


Raven Chacon received a BA (2001) from the University of New Mexico and an MFA (2004) from the California Institute of the Arts. From 2009 to 2018, he was a member of the art collective Postcommodity. His work has been presented at numerous venues and festivals, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the 2022 Whitney Biennial; the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago; San Francisco Electronic Music Festival; SITE Santa Fe; The Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.; Vancouver Art Gallery; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; and Borealis Festival, Bergen, Norway.

Published on October 4, 2023

Photos of Raven Chacon

High-resolution photos of MacArthur Fellows are available for download (right click and save), including use by media, in accordance with this copyright policy. Please credit: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Select News Coverage of Raven Chacon