Daniel Ryan Makes Music Without Restrictions

A clear look at Daniel Ryan. Photo by Ali Honchell

A clear look at Daniel Ryan.
Photo by Ali Honchell

Daniel Ryan is a brilliant collaborator and soloist when it comes to performing unusual, post-modern artistic noise. Ryan is a performer that keeps you guessing while keeping his audience fully immersed and engaged in the performance at hand. The Dentonite had a chance to talk more with Daniel Ryan on his perspective of noise and experimental music.

Ryan feels both noise and experimental music are valuable because it bypasses all restrictions he remembers encountering as a teenager when playing metal or really anything coming from rock music. “This isn’t to say that experimental music communities don’t have their own conventions — we have plenty of predefined notions of what this music is based on location, instruments, and gear, and any associated imagery, Ryan said. “They feel like they can approach their ideas head-on."

Ryan thinks it’s great there is no prerequisite for noise and experimental music, "Nobody needs any training or any specific gear. If all you have is a mixer or a piece of metal or even just your voice, you can make this music. It’s more about your ideas and less about what you own or what you have learned," he said.

Ryan loves playing with people who embrace dynamics, negative space, and textural contrast. Some of his favorite musical collaborations have been with artists likes of Louise Fristensky and Jake Thiede because they always capture a massive dynamic range when they play together. Ryan has a split tape with Padéo Trio (Adriana Valls, Jake Thiede, and their self) and Holy Ghost Trio (Steve Jansen and John Quintos).

On that tape, Adriana adds a lot of textural contrast which Ryan thinks is one of the keys to keep things interesting. In his performances, Ryan tries to incorporate segments where one or more of the musicians rest for enough time to make it count. Ryan always manages to execute that when playing with Chase Gardner, Rebecca Novak, Garrett Wingfield, Ryan Seward, and in a recent collaboration with Mills Chaiken and their partner Reece McLean in their project Ovals & Parrot.

Some of Ryan’s most important musical influences range from the likes of computer musicians: Sam Pluta, Philip White, John Wiese, Venta Protesix, Ryoji Ikeda, and Jeff Carey. Some other influences are artists who work with endurance as well as with space — Sarah Hennies, Sachiko M, Eva-Maria Houben, Julius Eastman, Taku Sugimoto, North Texas artists Jen Hill, Sam Friedland, Mitchell Rotunno, Cut Shutters, and especially Jürg Frey. Ryan said, “Although some of them are no longer in Denton, they always made me want to make music. There are so many more artists from Denton, free improv scenes around the world, and Midwest noise that I’m leaving out though.”

As a student at UNT, Ryan has been introduced to both historically important and new living composers. The biggest takeaway Ryan has from UNT is considering the space in which music takes place. Ryan has so many mixed feelings on concert halls and noticed he feels more comfortable performing his music in a house or DIY space.

Ryan initially came in touch with noise music when he started getting into the Internet in the age of music blogs. If it was available to download, Ryan listened to it. This is how Ryan was first introduced to artists like Wolf Eyes, John Wiese, Growing, Sun City Girls, Harry Pussy, and so many other great weirdo musicians.

While this self-education went on, Ryan’s guitar teacher at the time, Nick Schillace, introduced him to John Fahey and American Primitive guitar, which celebrates a broad range of influences, and gave him a score for a John Zorn piece (the Book of Heads). The score for the John Zorn piece might have been the most significant thing Ryan received from his guitar teacher. Ryan wasn’t aware there were people using sounds like that and instructing performers to interpret music that wasn’t written into the score.

Ryan does not have a direct message or statement when performing his music. He believes music cannot communicate precise statements as with spoken or written language, but he thinks music is a vehicle for exploring broader concepts.

Ryan’s interests have been shifting all over the place, and his instrument choice reflects that. He is always incorporating new electronics into his setup. When he grows tired of electronics, he stylistically plays with found objects, guitar, voice, etc. When Ryan first began playing solo music, he drew a lot of influence from Americana, Hindustani raga form, and the idea that a single acoustic guitar could sound like more than one.

For a while, Ryan listened to a ton of early ‘00s pop music, he would make sound collages with it on tapes and process them through his mixer. Now, Ryan wants to experiment interacting with others without discussing instrumentation too much beforehand. He likes the mystery of not knowing what someone will bring to the table when they collaborate.

Ryan believes the terms noise and experimental are both very broad when categorizing music. He uses noise music as a catchall when talking about music that is difficult to categorize or with certain aesthetics and believes that experimental music is better defined by the approach than the result. Finally, he thinks both terms border on uselessness and says that there are better ways to describe music.

Ryan does not believe that there is a limit on what anyone can play with as long as they can produce sound with it. He feels most comfortable with a guitar, a no-input mixer, a few computer setups he currently has, and a growing collection of found objects he has been playing with for a while. Ryan’s favorite instruments' collection include his steel resonator guitar; a no-name Mackie 1202VLZ mixer clone from the ‘90s; some pieces of resonant metal he found on the streets or secondhand stores; thin pieces of plastic like acetate or grocery bags; a 1-watt speaker attached to a contact mic; and a Max/MSP patch he built to generate very simple synth tones and manipulate samples of other performers they record on the spot. Even though most of the music Ryan performs is improvised, he always thinks about how many options he has for his next action and whether or not his choice is purposeful.

Recorded live sets of Daniel Ryan’s music can be listened to on his Bandcamp page.

Photo by Ali Honchell