YII ART
2021.10.26
Ryan J Raffa's Musical Journey
Ryan J Raffa, an electronic music artist, launches their latest album Thought Without Image, music to build a land of mystery. Are you feeling lost in life and needing a guide to finding your true self? If you haven't listened to Ryan's songs, give it a shot!
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PhotoRyan J Raffa

TextBecky Tu

When the music plays, my horizons seem to be expanded progressively, broadening my line of sight from the narrow view by the building to crossing over the border of the building for opening myself up to new ideas or experiencing something I never have before.

What surprises me is that Ryan J Raffa's creation has a great difference from the typical electronic music that I've imagined! Thought Without Image is Ryan's fourth album. From their self-introduction, they utilize modular synthesizers, field recordings, & various electronic and non-electronic devices to explore a person's psychogeography, the various states of the consciousness and subconsciousness mind impacted by the environment around them. Want to know more about Ryan's life story, just keep reading!

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Where Environment and Improvisation Collide, Sparks Will Fly
The day I had the interview with Ryan was a burning hot afternoon. To be honest, I'm not exactly a huge fan of electronic music so I was quite nervous about interviewing Ryan then. But, our conversation ended with a twist as Ryan talked freely about their schooling in the US, being a Part-Time Assistant Professor in the Art Field of the Parsons School of Design, and pursuing their musical dreams in foreign countries. This electronic music artist is a good talker for the listeners who won't feel pressure during their talking. I believe that it must have a great deal to do with their 7-year teaching experience at Parsons.



Born in the country of Upstate New York and living 17 years in Brooklyn, NYC, Ryan is a real New Yorker. They are currently based in Taiwan with their Taiwanese wife and their son. To give their boy a chance to know more about his mother's homeland, the Raffas left NYC 4 years ago and settled in Taipei, Taiwan. Ryan says, there is another unexpected benefit of living in Taipei, they get more time to create their favorite music and they've released four albums since 2018. Ryan just launched their fourth album Thought Without Image this summer. You Are Ocean is the first song that I listen to from their latest album.




Music Brings People Motivation and Comfort

What the song You Are Ocean means is just like the song's name showcasing literally. While listening to it, you feel like your inner eyes are activated and you'll see the invisible, ocean-wide space that the human eyes can't see expand in front of you slowly. Ryan says, You Are Ocean is just about that. The concept they want to tell through this song is that people are as deep as the ocean, an endless expanse of time and space, which is something beyond what our minds may understand. You could get rid of the ''self'' you've perceived or any other label tagged on you. These labels, such as gender, race, role in the family/job/society, and more, are like the invisible chains wrapped around yourself, being with you wherever you go. Ryan's musical creation is to remind you to elevate above these and find new ones for yourself. Like Ryan says, we are capable of these things.
(Please click the image below for more about You are Ocean)




While playing another song, In The Long Run, the sound you hear first is the sound of someone's running footsteps. Ryan says this is an experience that they try to express through sounds and they hope to utilize the melody to tell the rapid changes of the environment. Inspired by the daily jogging routes, campus, even the well-known Boston Marathon or New York City Marathon, Ryan, as a running enthusiast, tries to express how they feel during running through their musical work. Also, Ryan uses a wordplay on the song name of  In The Long Run. The prepositional phrase, In The Long Run, literally means ''after a long time. '' So the song's name has another significance for comforting those around you that everything will be alright, we can get through this eventually. Like the running footstep sounds at the beginning, the song starts from the wondering and exploring melody, next coming to the rustling noises, the subway's coming and going sound, heavy traffic sound, and the vehicle engine noises. Later on, the sound of people talking far away and the delightful chord are introduced into the song. What these sounds do aims to create a visual effect through hearing. That makes the audience feel like entering an unknown space, from a cold industrial environment to stepping into a more friendly, familiar space. That also gives the audience a clue that in the long run we'll get through it all together. 
(Please click the image below for more about In the Long Run)



Improvisation & Psychogeography

Ryan says the inspiration of this new album, Thought Without Image, is a deep meditation and inquiry into the various workings of mental images. During the COVID-19 outbreak, the world is in turmoil and chaos, every part of the society is impacted, none can stand apart from it. As a reflection, they started to think about what perpetuates these issues that even the US and many other countries around the world can't find any solutions to.


This is also the concept of mental image that they say emphatically. Like observing the World around us, the false narratives of reality keep playing in our minds. They say, there are two sides of the same coin, the positive side of the coin is the Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) and magical thinking. The other side of it is the heavy, dark societal issues such as racism and the ignorant, prejudiced world views. The combination of these different perspectives makes for our daily experience, the stories we heard, and the journey we've been through. So this album expresses an idea that is uncertain, uncompleted or something under a fuzzy state.



Like Heraclitus said, ''the only thing that is constant is change.'' Perhaps, it's the same for Ryan as they're a big believer in the idea that we are deeply impacted by our environment. Ryan has studied the art research area known as Psychogeography for over a decade, and this influences the questions he considers through their work. In the 1950s, Psychogeography defined by a French Marxist theorist Guy Debord aims to research how the geographical environment has a psychological impact on people. So I ask Ryan that where they were inspired for the latest album. They recalled that it was the Summer and Fall of 2020, one of their favorite things then was to spend time on prolonged wanders in the mountains of the Yangmingshan National Park. Ryan is also a hiking enthusiast, along with the time of body exercise, their mind works too, such as purposefully dismantling the repeated narratives playing in the mind and trying to search for something new. Alongside the process of dismantlement and reorganization, they figured out the best way to express new, complete narratives. They performed improvisations to embody these imperfect, unrecognizable narratives they experienced on the hikes. That forms the basis of this latest album, Thought Without Image.




Improvisation is the main idea that threads through Ryan's musical work, as well as their creative inspiration. Ryan says, improvisation is a type of performance or could be defined as a creative performing behavior. Performers would not perform the music exactly as the same as the prepared musical scores. They have to instantly give a response to the music they hear in the moment. For example, you feel that the concertmaster performs excellently, it might be your assumption that they devoted great effort to the daily rehearsal and perform this musical composition with great skills. So is the improvisation. Performers need to respond to the music they hear then and repeat such feedback constantly.


Expect to Make More Sparks

Ryan is a classically trained pianist and percussionist. They remember performing a show in high school. They hit the snare drum and then the echo of the drum bounced off the auditorium wall and back to their ear. The hair on the back of their neck stood on end. They’d never felt so alive and present. It was so incredible! That sound was just like a switch, inspiring something inside of them. From then on, they thought this something called music played a key role in their life such as exploring some unknown feelings, experiencing something new, and of course inspiring them for creation constantly.


After living in Taipei, Ryan says jokingly that they get a lot of time for music creation when his wife goes to work and his boy goes to school. On the opposite, life in NYC is fast-paced, like living in an around-the-clock lifestyle, and that could be extremely draining. Therefore, included the ongoing collaborative projects with artist, Nico Rosenberg, Ryan works together with a group of Indian classical musicians, the Svara Ensemble, living around the world. They utilize synthesizers and various sonic experiments to re-interpret the musical works created by each one of them. Titled Velā, this new musical creation will be released in November by Shimmering Moods Records.



Apart from Ryan's music, they love photography as well. They share their photographs on Instagram, some pictures record a significant glance on hiking, some photos capture every instant moment of everyday life. They say they take photos solely upon what is inspiring to them in the moment. He only captures the instant moment that touches them but does not particularly record the dates. Like mother like son, their mother was a photographer, and they grew up immersed in the world of the photography. More than that, Ryan loves nature and hiking. They joke that they want to go out for a walk every day. Though walking on the same street day by day, they still find something new and feels something different. Nowadays, our daily lives are a bit far from nature so we need to find back whatever touched our hearts. Expect Ryan's music to help us to continue finding ''ourselves''.




Ryan J Raffa
1978 born in New York
USA citizen
Currently based in Taipei, Taiwan

▸Education
2011 graduated MFA from Parsons School of Design, Valedictorian with honors, major in Design + Technology, New York, NY USA.
1996 graduated BS from Cornell University, Ithaca, NY USA

▸Recent Releases
2021, Thought Without Image (Shimmering Moods Records, Netherlands)
2021, We Have Always Existed (Aural Canyon, USA)
2020, Living Distances EP (split EP with Yumi Iwaki) (Muzan Editions, Japan)
2020, Ginkgo (Muzan Editions, Japan)
2019, Landscapes and Self Portraits (Mystery Circles, USA)

▸Recent Exhibitions/Performances
2021  Chiseling The Light With Ink, Live Performance - 濕地 venue - Yii Culture, Taipei, TW
2020  Sound of the Mountains, Live Performance - Nara, JP
2019  Sound of the Mountains, Live Performance - Nara, JP
2014  refest, CultureHub/La MaMa Galleria, New York, NY
          Earlids, Aronson Gallery, New York, NY
          Everything is TEMP, TEMP Art Space, New York, NY

▸Grants/Awards/Talks
2013   Sound as Research, Air Mozilla, Mozilla Headquarters - Presenter
2012   SIGGRAPH Conference, Los Angeles Convention Center - Studio Talk Presenter 
           Critical Information: Mapping the Intersection of Art and Technology Conference, SVA New York - Presenter
2011   ACM Conference on Creativity and Cognition, High Museum – Presenter
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