PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Sun Ra and His Arkestra: Thunder of the Gods

Fifty years after their recording, we can finally hear some of Sun Ra's strangest and most complex compositions.


Sun Ra and His Arkestra

Thunder of the Gods

Label: Modern Harmonic
Release Date: 2017-04-07
Amazon
iTunes

“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. It is they who are exploring new lands, forging the way through to greater possibilities and we are the ones who need to do the catching up. This is not music for the faint of heart or the impatient of ear, this is bold and strange and difficult, but like secondhand reports of undiscovered countries, it is impossible to comprehend what is being communicated without following to see and experience this strangeness for yourself.

Thunder of the Gods is a set of previously unreleased recordings from the tapes of Universe in Blue and the Strange Strings sessions and like many of Sun Ra’s dense compositions, they seem to describe a world and a plane of existence drastically removed from our own, but somehow moreso here than anywhere else. "Moonshots Across the Sky” and “Thunder of the Gods", the Strange Strings pieces, are often grating. The members of the band switching from their comfortable brass and woodwind instruments to unfamiliar stringed instruments clinging to an understanding and trust in how music works and the freeform guidance of Sun Ra himself. It leads to the instruments being used in unpredictable ways, scratching strings to create percussive raking sounds, strumming chords on the ‘wrong’ part of guitar and violin necks resulting in tight, sharp pinging. The pieces are built on acknowledging and embracing ignorance in the face of new experiences and ideas. The band is willing to experiment and to travel beyond what they know.

The opening track, “Calling Planet Earth - We’ll Wait For You", is a chaotic free-jazz opus with rapid call-and-response and polyphony that breaks open into a long, meandering solo section that builds to the halfway point, Tyson’s poem, and another explosion of sound. The solos are wild and erratic and refuse to land on a single tonal center but nevertheless following some kind of known pattern. A sequence deeply ingrained in the player that acts a kind of internal star map to at least get them from here to there. The halfway point signals Sun Ra’s Intergalactic Space Organ, a robotic, heavily filtered instrument. Sun Ra sweeps through huge ranges of notes in an instant and the machine compensates by sliding wildly from tone to tone. The horns follow his computer calculation-esque ascending and descending scales for a moment but soon recede leaving the listener and the organ alone. He builds and builds and finally lands on a pitchless white noise that thrums and pulsates. Beeps and sirens swirl around the hiss, swelling and eventually finding a point of semi-stillness. We have landed and there is suddenly the semblance of what we on earth can understand as structure. Chords in sequence played by the band in cooperation. They grow dramatically and melt once again into the hiss.

Thunder of the Gods is an exercise in ignorance, in trust, and in patience. It is different from everything else in the Sun Ra discography in its willingness to fully accept and embrace the unknown. In their unfamiliarity with stringed instruments, the band finds a freedom even greater than the freedom normally inherent in free-jazz. That freedom depends on their trust in their fearless leader and in their own ability and knowledge. They know where they are going and they trust that they can arrive there. This is the story of “Calling Planet Earth” as Sun Ra ventures beyond the known and into the strange. But it isn’t simply that they venture there themselves, alone. They will wait for the rest of us, and each member says so as a group and also as individuals. Waiting is the real trick of Thunder of the Gods. Listening to this music is often challenging, often exhausting, often requires great patience, but when it finally opens itself up, the listener can take that journey to another realm alongside the Arkestra and see the new lands and the shore on which the band has been waiting for 50 years. It takes time and effort, but that’s ok. We’ll wait.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.