Ryan Carraher (b.1993) is a composer, guitarist, and improviser based in Seattle, WA. His work is concerned with articulating the vulnerability of the human body, the role failure plays in identity expression, and composer-performer-audience relationships informed by kinesthetic empathy.
His music has been presented at numerous leading festivals, including Darmstädter Ferienkurse, June in Buffalo, Either/Or’s Spring Festival, New Music on the Bayou, Oh My Ears, New Music on the Point, Charlotte New Music Festival, VIPA, and Etchings. Carraher’s music has been performed and commissioned by: Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart, Loadbang, Ensemble Dal Niente, Popebama, Line Upon Line, Vasko Dukovski, Mariel Roberts, ECCE, Ensemble x.y, Transient Canvas, Orlando Cela, Iwona Glinka, Peridot Duo, Rose Hegele, Stephanie Lamprea, Megan Inhen, Philipp Stäudlin, and others across Europe and the USA.
Carraher has been named the Eastern division winner and national finalist of the MTNA composition competition, selected as a national finalist for the American Prize, selected as a finalist for the 2021 ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Competition, and selected as a national finalist in the Flute New Music Consortium composition competition. Additionally, he is the recipient of a Tribeca New Music merit award and the Berklee College of Music guitar department achievement award.
In addition to composition, Carraher is an accomplished guitarist specializing in free jazz and experimental improvisation. As bandleader, he has released numerous albums to critical acclaim, with his 2016 debut release Vocturnal named to the All About Jazz “Best of 2016” list. As a sideman, he has contributed to numerous recording projects.
Currently, Carraher is pursuing his DMA in composition at the University of Washington studying with Huck Hodge, Joël-François Durand, and Yigit Kolat. He earned his MA at Tufts University studying under John McDonald and his Bachelors in Guitar Performance at Berklee College of Music studying under Alla Cohen, David Tronzo, and Tim Miller.
Imagine: Upon waking, you discover your normal linguistic and communication faculties have disappeared. You possess crude noises and ambiguous physical gestures instead of intelligible speech, writing, and universally understood gestures. What would you do? Do you remain in bed and accept complete isolation? Or do you urgently spring out of bed, locate the nearest human and begin flailing wildly, producing odd utterances in an anxious effort to resuscitate (or recreate) communicative skills?
Although the former is tempting, I believe it is human nature to pursue the latter. In the proposed predicament, your identity—the unique constellation of physical, perceptual, and cognitive relationships with your environment—is destabilized. Despite this destabilization, you ceaselessly attempt to discover new relationships. You rapidly enter and exit potential forms of being in and perceiving the world. There will never be the guarantee that you will once again be able to communicate, but you persist in the face of seemingly perpetual failure. In this example, the fundamental need for interpersonal relationships galvanizes you to encounter alterity ceaselessly.
For me, the intersection between destabilizing forces (e.g., the loss of a fundamental skill) and galvanizing forces (e.g., the existential drive to address this lack; ward off complete isolation; communicate with loved ones; share your ideas) is where beauty lies.
This intersection guides my work. I view my works not as concrete objects but rather as fluid collections of destabilizing forces that distance performers from learned performance habits. In practice, this often manifests through novel notational approaches (graphics, animations, videos, recordings, games, social systems, texts) and unorthodox approaches to performance techniques. I’m interested in denying performers the opportunity to understand the piece entirely. When they take the stage, they remain alienated from the work in many respects. In a sense, the experience of alienation becomes what is performed, not necessarily a preconceived selection of sounds.
I seek to accomplish three things through this compositional approach:
To celebrate and showcase the human capacity to remain persistent in the face of the unknown; to remain positive despite inevitable failures.
To invite performers, the audience, and myself to experience subconscious limitations and habits, inquire into their origins, revisit perceptual/creative/experiential dimensions left unexplored due to them, and inspire personal work towards more profound, fully aware, performance, creative, and social practices.
To foster a community accepting of limitations and alternative forms of being. A community rooted in empathy treating “failures” not as “mistakes” but rather expressions of the momentary boundaries of an individual.
A memory that inspires me
I observed a recording session of a composition inspired by the above ideas. At one point, the flutist whistled. I didn’t think anything of it; “people whistle all the time,” I thought. As soon as the take stopped, the flutist joyously exclaimed that they had never whistled before in their life. They allowed themselves to be vulnerable and their body to be drawn into inorganic configurations. The process unlocked new potential. I am grateful I had a small part to play in this experience.