|The Execution of Sun Ra
On May 22, 2014, a global community of committed fans celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of jazz music’s most enduring and colorful enigmas. Drawing equally from the ancient mythological and the futuristic technomagical, Sun Ra declared an “official” end to time and invited the most courageous and creative of Earth’s people to join him in constructing an alternative planetary destiny. Ethnomusicologist Thomas Stanley has written a book that he hopes will bring Sun Ra’s philosophy and message into classrooms, workplaces, homes, and hearts around the world. Titled in homage to a Sun Ra pun on the double meaning of the English word execute, Dr. Stanley’s work offers less an exegesis of the copious legacy of the iconoclastic artist’s unique cosmospeak than an active intellectual response to Sun Ra’s thickly layered take on the fate and condition of intelligent life on Earth. Stanley, who has previously coauthored an oral history on rhythm and blues revolutionaries Parliament/Funkadelic, takes on Ra’s kingdom with a well-sourced rhizomatic reading that ricochets between discussions of topics ranging from clinical definitions of death, slave spirituality in the Antebellum South, and the potential ramifications of civilization-crippling coronal mass ejections. Stanley positions Sun Ra’s work with live musical performance as history-altering participatory ritual in opposition to the somber atomic consequences of the Manhattan Project, launched, interestingly enough, at nearly the exact same time and place as Ra’s prime creative vessel – his Arkestra.
|The Execution of Sun Ra is a 6 x 9”, 242-page paperback with b&w images by Leon Collins, Yusef Jones, Lee Santa, Paula Stanley, Charles Steck, and Michael Wilderman. The cover illustration was done by Erica Fallin and the book design by Al Morrow. Author and cyberpunk theorist Kirby Malone provided editing. Kifah Foutah provided editorial assistance. Greg Tate wrote the foreword. There are two appendices including the first published transcript of Stanley’s October 1990 interview with Sun Ra and several transcriptions of similar previously unpublished material. There's also a recommended playlist of Sun Ra music to enhance your reading pleasure.
I am convinced that a noetic revolution begins very close to the point where people begin to really listen to the music they consume. Precisely how music, an art form aimed at the ears, was subverted by the optical regime of the spectacle is almost beside the point. Music has always delivered its goods across multiple modalities, but the degree to which we are asked to “read” our music rather than listen to it is perhaps at an all-time high. In fact, pop music is no longer about listening at all, but rather submits itself to a symbolic decoding of social significations that happen to be delivered through a nominally sonic code, a code that has become more vapid and moribund with each mega-hit stamped out by the machine. But music survives as a body of sound, a presence. Vibrating air dances upon the tiniest of drum heads; cochlear fluid sloshes across neatly ordered rows of undulating cilia. The elegant mechanics of hearing are not the same as the perception of sound. Within the latter, the ability of music to serve the human condition opens up and swallows our most persistent dilemma. Perception is entrainment. Music as a body of complex waves is a force acting upon another, presumably more motile body of waves – the electrical activity of the human brain. Music molds awareness; it does not simply add to its contents.
Thomas Stanley (a/k/a Bushmeat)