Archives for category: Sun Ra

I had a cold drink of water with musician/composer LeRoy Bach the other day. He was talking about his idea that Sun Ra’s most radical experimentation was expressed through the way in which he recorded the music. LeRoy explained that Sun Ra would often place the mic so that a very small and subtle thing could be experienced, through the recording medium, as a very large and expansive thing.

I think this is a brilliant observation. The quest is to find ways of applying this technique to video, in conjunction with Julie Perini”s ideas about relational filmmaking for the project that is brewing here.

Sun Ra album cover never printed - except in a brilliant drawing by Robert Pruitt...

These speculative sketches for  Solar Flare Arkestral Marching Band Uniforms  play on the costume design you can see on Sun Ra and his arkestra, but also attempt to produce a unity and order so essential for secret societies when the make public demonstrations of power and venture into the public. We must understand, when we see the arkestra, that even if we don’t know who they are – they do. And they know what they are doing.  Also, in consideration of the likelihood that the arkestras would be staffed by young people, there is an attempt to preserve the hard fought dignity of youth and, well, just be cool.

I am on a quest to find out who styled and dressed Sun Ra’s Arkestra in the later years. I know Sun Ra made many of the early costumes himself; but there is film footage of a man wrapping Sun Ra into some glittering fabric, and twisting a wire bracelet onto his wrist. I really want to know who that man is.

It is amazing how some forms of labor and creative production are completely overlooked by historians and hard-core fans. And very interesting how only now the theatricality of Sun Ra’s live performances is coherently understood not as simply a show, or gimmick, but as the visual component of his cosmological equations and communication systems. If anyone knows who the arkestra stylist was, will you PLEASE let me know?

The Colors.
This project embraces the processional as a celebratory disruption applied in the interest of creative thought and inspired actions, as well as the recognition and celebration of important lives whether that life belong to a teenager on the debate team, a community leader, the shoe shine man, the pre-school teacher, or the mayor. I gravitated towards the colors of orange (yellow) and blue (aqua) because of the way in which each colors is popularly understood across many cultures and social groups as invoking suggestive emotions rather than symbolic iconography, say like red, or white.

I read somewhere that the color orange makes folks hungry. I don’t know about this, but I do believe that people who experience color as more than just aesthetic determinants but also as sensual cues, receive orange as a stimulant for creative action. Orange invites people to dive into a task with enthusiastic abandon (so that makes sense in relation to eating). It is also considered a gateway to change and signifies exploration of the new. And orange is a silly color, I think. You can’t really wear orange when you are talking business – burnt orange maybe, but a blazing solar flare orange? Perhaps not. Orange is for reveling, playing, making, instigating. Destabilization is a good thing and a necessary thing in the production of visual art.

Now the color blue enters into more fraught territory. I don’t even have to mention the ay in which politicians and social engineers cling to the color blue and apply all manner of meaning and agendas to this universal hue. Fortunately for the color blue, it’s bigger than that.
Blue is our world reflected back to us  -literally. Our entire understanding of our physical and metaphysical world  is embedded in this color. His color cannot be claimed or codified any more than an indigo plant can do anything but grow.

Indigo Plant

chemical structure of indigo pigment

But I do think many folks experience the color blue as a relaxing sensation. Blue invites detachment – not disengagement, but perspective. This is very important when one is trying to communicate complex or difficult ideas. Blue is a natural conduit color, it creates connections and pathways – spaceways. Blue is the color that makes two conflicting colors get along. Blue is as fundamental as a bass line, as constant the north star. Blue belongs to no one, and all. And it really likes orange. Look how they pop when the sit beside each other.

The first SOLAR FLARE ARKESTRAL MARCHING BAND appearance will be performed by THE MORGAN PARK HIGH SCHOOL MARCHING BAND. The band’s extraordinary director, Ms. Shemeka Nash, embraces the opportunity to expose her students to the music of Sun Ra and a performance in a new setting.

Morgan Park High School Marching Band

I was really taken with this high school when I visited. At 2:30 in the afternoon, the place was buzzing with activity. Football practice, drill team, color car, drum corp, and tennis were all being practice and enjoyed. Ms. Nash is an extremely dedicated educator and her band is full of creative and positive young people. That’s what I like!

This band’s interpretation of Sun Ra’s music as arranged by composer, Greg Ward, should not be missed. In case you are interested in learning more about this band and Morgan Park High, click on the links here. With a couple of clicks of you mouse, you can adopt Ms. Nash’s band and help support their huge operation.

As Ms. Nash explained to me, “This is a Grade A, black, high school marching show band.” Okay?  The Morgan Park High School Marching Band gets down! And now with their cooperation,  the Solar Flare Arkestral Marching Band has officially launched! The performances will not be widely announced until a few days before they occur, but you can expect the Ark to land sometime during the last week of August. And it’s LIFTOFF!

Five marches, five Sun Ra tunes, arranged by five established Chicago composers! If you are a musician who marches, if you love Sun Ra – if you just plain love performing, join the SOLAR FLARE ARKESTRAL MARCHING BAND and be a part of an exciting public arts program. All performances will be in the month of August 2010.
Facebook a message to Kelly Gabron for more information!

Parangolé is a slang Portuguese term which translates into a spectrum of ideas and events related to “idleness, a sudden agitation, an unexpected situation, or a dance party.”(1) Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980) created textile based structures designed to be worn and activated by the wearer. Oiticica attempted to transgress the structures of class in is native Brazil by moving to the Mangueira favela (2) and joining  the Mangueira Samba School- the oldest Samba school in Rio de Janeiro. Oiticica’s parangolé objects were inspired by the processionals produced by  organizations like the Mangueira samba school. The first parangolés that he created were performed by and for the members of this community.

Caetano Veloso wearing one of Hélio Oiticica's Parangolés

Though Hélio Oiticica produced the bulk of his Parangolés between 1964 – 1968, years after Sun Ra had developed his theatrical strategies, there are a peculiar collisions between  what I speculate to be some of the reasoning for producing disruptions, or sudden agitations though textiles and performance.  For the 1965 opening and first public showing of the parangolés, Hélio Oiticica invited his colleagues form the Mangueira Samba school to activate the parangolés in the Museum of Art in Rio.  “The irruption of the poor into the bourgeois atmosphere of the museum caused such a scandal that the director had them evicted.” (1)

Mangueira resident perfomring in an Oiticica Parangolé

After settling in New York in 1961, the energy of the city activated Sun Ra into the habit of wearing his performance regalia of capes, metallic fibers, and caps with antennas on the street as his regular day wear.  If a stranger stopped him to ask him what his deal was, he would share his extraterrestrial identity and something of his origin “equations.”(3)  Escaping a dictatorial regime, Hélio Oiticica lived in New York from 1971 to 1978. During this time he produced as series of works through which he seemed to turn inward but which were no less experimental and physically experiential. He transformed his apartment into his studio and dubbed it “Babylonest.”

Both Sun Ra, and Hélio Oiticica refused to separate the body from their conceptual and creative production. With his parangolés, Hélio Oiticica creates a space in which “ in which everyone can count himself/herself as belonging, and can act collectively simply by wearing such textile creations and by dancing and demonstrating.” (5) Sun Ra’s Arkestra invites all participants, those on the stage playing instruments, and those in the audience receiving this cosmological music-based messages to fully immerse themselves and get on board the Ark.

In developing the Solar Flare Arkestral Marching Band, I made the leap to the idea of a flash mob marching band before I had the conceptual underpinnings to understand why, indeed, these protests / parties had to have music, had to provoke the body into movement and had to take place in communities that are relatively invisible and consistently neglected by society and  government. The uncanny affinities between these two artists, not the least of which is their names, has become a part of the buttress that supports the production modalities of this residency.
I hope to use this blog as an archive for the many links, relationships, affinities, and models that are informing this project. Please visit again, and please do comment to share leads and ideas.

1 – “Tactile Dematerialization, Sensory Politics: Helio Oiticica’s Parangolés. Art Journal. June 22, 2004, Dezeuze, Anna.
2 – “Living Colour. Vincent Katz on Helio Oiticia.”
3 – Space is the Place by John F. Szwed.
4 -Hélio Oiticica. Frieze Magazine. Issue 64, January-February 2002
5 – Anna Schober. Hélio Oiticica’s Parangolés: Body-Events, Participation in the Anti-Doxa of the Avant-Garde and Struggling Free from It.

Le Sun Ra and his Arkestra
Sun Ra and his Arkestra
Sun Ra and his Solar Arkestra
Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Research Arkestra
Sun Ra And His Intergalactic Solar Arkestra
Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Solar Research Arkestra

Sun Ra and his Myth Science Arkestra
Sun Ra and the Myth Science Arkestra
Sun Ra and his Myth Science Solar Arkestra
Sun Ra and his Year 2000 Myth Science Arkestra
Sun Ra and his Solar-Myth Arkestra
Sun Ra and his Astro Infinity Arkestra
Sun Ra and his Astro-Galactic Infinity Arkestra
Sun Ra and his Astro-Intergalactic-Infinity-Arkestra
Sun Ra and his Astro-Solar-Infinity Arkestra
Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Arkestra
Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Astro-Solar Infinity Arkestra
Sun Ra and his Outer Space Arkestra
Sun Ra and the The Omniverse Jet Set Arkestra

In August!

Check back here for updates, information, rminations, connections, shout outs and announcements about when and where the Ark will land.

If you subscibe to this blog, the Ark can keep you in its orbit. You’ll be the first to know what’s happeing — and why it’s happening.



In 1946, a musician named Herman P. Blount, followed the great migration from  Birmingham, Alabama (The Magic City)  to Chicago Illinois. In 1961, this same musician left Chicago as Sun Ra and his Arkestra, and Herman P. Blount was never heard from again. For me this remarkable period of gestation and self-actualization operates as a model, a road map, and a prayer for every creative being. Deeply rooted and invested in cultural, historical, and spiritual aspects of African-American life, Sun Ra also imagined himself — created himself– into a cosmological being unencumbered by the gravitational pulls of this world.

To celebrate this model of self-invention and to protest the lingering and ever oppressive constraints which beleaguer working class people in America, filmmaker and visual artist, Cauleen Smith, in conjunction with a host of Chicago Talents, organizations, citizens, and  troublemakers will produce a series of live street protests/parties in the form of A ROGUE INSURGENT MARCHING BAND that will converge upon an agreed upon site to play an arrangement of a Sun Ra Tune, and then scatter before anyone knows what hit’em!

THE SOLAR FLARE ARKESTRAL MARCHING BAND, in homage to Sun Ra, will wear “uniforms” inspired by Sun Ra’s Original Arkestra, and converge from many points (like stars) into a designated site to incite the abandonment of the status quo, interrupt corporate routine, and celebrate the ways that individuals agree to exist within communities.

The arrangements of Sun Ra tune have been commissioned from five truly amazing Chicago composers:

LeRoy Bach,
Reneé Baker,
Nicole Mitchell,
Greg Ward,
Edward Wilkerson.

These creative musicians, through the dynamism of the Solar Flare Arkestral Marching Band, are going to ROCK THE STREETS. The live audio recordings as well as a video, which folds these performances into an experimental narrative, will become available through threewalls gallery and its partners in the Fall of 2011. So if you can’t wait that long you gotta come to the marches!

Because the marches are spontaneous flash mobs, there is no schedule available. So for up to the minute updates, which will give you the location and times of the marches several hours in advance, follow the TWITTER FEED: solarflareark.

Keep checking back here, follow the tweets, or join the facebook page for updates. (Once you log into facebook, search for Solar Flare Arkestra and you’ll find the page.) And of course, subscribe to this blog for further information about the whys and what-fors of this project.

The Solar Flare Marching Band is one component of a larger project being supported through the artist-in residence program at threewalls gallery.


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