Issue 13 Futures Spring 2004
The Eight-Fold Path to Knowing Ra
Sun Ra was the most far-out cat that ever lived. He led a large band that made a joyful Space Jazz Noise Vibration from the early 50s up until Ra’s planetary departure in 1993. He was from the planet Saturn.
In my music there’s a lot of little melodies going on. It’s like an ocean of sound. The ocean comes up, it goes back, it rolls. It might go over people’s heads, wash part of them away, reenergize them, go through them, and then go back out to the cosmos and come back again. They go home and maybe 15 years later they’ll say “Whoa, that music I heard 15 years ago in the park ... it was beautiful!”
His mission can be best explained by the business plan sent to register his company Ihnfinity Inc.—which can still be found amidst the dusty files of Chicago’s Board of Trade—and distinguished by its cosmological aura of space-peace and optimism:
To perform spiritual-cosmic-intergalactic-infinity research works relative to worlds-dimensions-planes in galaxies and universes beyond the present now known used imaginations of mankind, beyond the intergalactic central sun and works relative to the spiritual advancement of our presently known world. To awaken the spiritual conscious of mankind putting him back in contact with his “Creator.” To make mankind aware that there are superior beings (Gods) on other planets in other galaxies. To help stamp out (destroy) ignorance destroying its major purpose changing ignorance to constructive creative progress. To use these spiritual- cosmic values for the greater advancement of all people of earth and creative live beings of the galaxy and galaxies beyond the central sun. To establish spiritual energy refilling houses where people can come to refill themselves with spiritual energy and to seek their “natural Creator” (God). To perform works as the “Creator” wills us, “Ihnfinity,” to perform.
Through one important Percepto-Lens, Ra made an enormous contribution to the aestheticization of black resistance to oppression. Africa, and especially Egypt, via the Cosmo-Sun Connection, the heliocentricity that put the Sun in Ra and the Ra in Sun, became a powerful floating metaphor. Yet, within the free-floating domain of non-causality, the Cosmic-Egypt-Creator complex serves as an exploration of an ultimate Otherness drawn to the centre of our experience.
Though Ra’s music had an arcane meaning, it also spoke to anyone who wished to change dancing partners in the Eternal Waltz of Self and Other.MUSIC
Ra was like a Medieval Kabbalist, playing both sides of an argument with equal force and passion. He encouraged his band to play “the wrong way,” because any old bunch of schmucks could play music the right way. He once told his bassoonist James Jacson: Jacson, play all the things you don’t know! You’ll be surprised by what you don’t know. You know how many notes there are between C and D? If you deal with those tones you can play nature and nature doesn’t know tones. That’s why religions have bells, which sound all the transient notes. You’re not musicians, you’re tone scientists.
Ra explored every conceivable musical genre, and many that defy earthly classification. He always used a big band, embracing the whole jazz tradition from swing to the avant-garde to the blues to classical. It was all music—and it was all good.
Sun Ra released the single “Disco 3000” in 1975, 20 years before Pulp made “Disco 2000.” This puts things in an appropriate perspective.
You should never choose to buy a Sun Ra record—it should choose you. Go to a record shop and find the section marked Sun Ra. Shut your eyes and slowly flip through the covers. Stop when a strange heliocentric sub-pulse wave vibration emanation occurs. Select the record you were touching at that precise moment and purchase in the normal manner.
But you should read John F. Szwed’s brilliant Space is the Place: The Life and Times of Sun Ra. It’s one of the best books ever written about anything.
Greg Rowland is contributing editor at the Idler magazine. He also sells semiotics to multinational corporations. He is based in London, England.
Cabinet is a non-profit organization supported by the Lambent Foundation, the Orphiflamme Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Katchadourian Family Foundation, and many generous individuals. All our events are free, the entire content of our many sold-out issues are on our site for free, and we offer our magazine and books at prices that are considerably below cost. Please consider supporting our work by making a tax-deductible donation by visiting here.
© 2004 Cabinet Magazine