Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I like all the sounds that upset people

I was wrung-out: Sun Ra's music is pagan, religious, simple, complex and almost everything else at the same time. There is no pigeon-hole for it. It is ugly and beautiful and terribly interesting. It's new music, but I have been hearing it for ages.
That is from a 1967 Village Voice review by Michael Zwerin. Danny Goldberg's In Search of the Lost Chord tells how Sun Ra and his Arkestra were a fixture at rock shows, countercultural benefits and outdoor celebrations on the East Coast in the 1960s, with the Arkestra's flamboyant performances and mystical intensity complementing the zeitgeist. Elsewhere Barry Miles explains that Sun Ra was on Paul McCartney's stoned playlist in the 60s alongside John Cage and Luciano Berio. The loose Fluxus grouping included Sun Ra and John Cage, and they performed together at the Coney Island Museum in June 1984. There is a commercial recording of the collaboration; but as Cage's contribution was cursory this archive document has little more than curiosity value.

In 1970 Sun Ra and the Arkestra played at the prestigious Donaueschingen Festival of new music; this was the year that Stockhausen's Mantra was premiered at the Festival. Sun Ra's visionary belief in the power of technology meant that many of his performances were recorded and issued on limited edition albums, including his Donaueschingen gig. Between 1978 and 1980 director Robert Mugge filmed Sun Ra and the Arkestra in performance and during downtime. The resulting 60 minute documentary Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise can be viewed below in full. In his highly recommended biography of the interplanetary enfant terrible titled Space is the Place John F. Szwed quotes Sun Ra as expounding his artistic philosophy in the following words:

I like all the sounds that upset people, because they're too complacent, and there are some sounds that really upset them, and man, you need to shock them out of their complacency, 'cause it's a very bad world in a lot of aspects. They need to wake to how bad it is: then maybe they'll do something about it. It is really a far chance to take. but I think they should take it.
Comfort zones anyone?


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