Last year, NASA unveiled the Orbit Pavilion , a domed, aluminum chamber that relays sonic information from space. The sound installation maps individual satellite voices in one track and compresses 24 hours of sound into a single minute in another. The two tracks transmit in tandem, creating a haunting space symphony . These creaks and echoes bring to mind the work of Sun Ra, who did more than just give space a soundtrack; he navigated star clusters at light-speed.
"In some far off place, many light years in space, we'll wait for you," June Tyson speaks around the halfway point of the 24-minute epic "Calling Planet Earth - We'll Wait For You”. Her last phrase is shouted back to her chaotically by the other members of the famed, avant-garde Arkestra. She speaks like someone leaning over the stern of a boat shouting at the people left standing on the dock, as though the whole band has weighed anchor and set a course.
The 2017 release Thunder of the Gods contains three previously unreleased Sun Ra recordings originating from the late '60s and early '70s. The first side is a 23-minute portion of a performance at Slug's Saloon in New York, where the Arkestra held an 18-month weekly residence. They start off with "Calling Planet Earth," beginning with an intergalactic cry before tumbling into freewheeling cosmic improvisation.
Sun Ra's mammoth discography, while rooted in jazz, covers many other strands of music, from 50s big band stylings to dalliances with vocal jazz, funk, disco, and the avant-garde. Each was given Ra's own idiosyncratic take, though few allowed his imagination to run riot quite like the latter. This collection of previously unreleased recordings finds him diving head first into free jazz waters with the unshakeable confidence of a man who declared himself an angel sent from outer space.