November 2, 2008

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra and his Astro Infinity Arkestra: Strange Strings (Atavistic ALP263 CD)

Recorded NYC 1966-1967
Strange Strings is one of the most obscure and downright weird recordings in all of Sun Ra’s immense (and weird) discography. By 1966, Ra had acquired a selection of odd stringed instruments – ukuleles, kotos, zithers, etc. – to be played exclusively here by members of the Arkestra. That the musicians did not how to play them was the whole point, it was, according to Ra, “a study in ignorance.” Structurally, the music builds on the kind of conducted-improvisation found on The Magic City (1965) (Evidence CD), but the unfamiliar instruments create a truly otherworldly din. Homemade metallic instruments clatter and thrum while strings are plucked, bowed, struck and scraped; sometimes drums and tympani pound ominously. Thick reverb saturates or, at other times, dries up the acoustic, creating shifting and distorted sonic perspectives. Sounding more like Iannis Xenakis than Fletcher Henderson, this stuff is definitely not for the faint of heart! The bonus track, “Door Squeak” features Sun Ra on, yes, a loudly squeaking door (which actually sounds very much like the MiniMoog, which he would take up years later) while more strange strings chatter in the background. Detailed liner notes by Hal Rammel and super deluxe packaging make this CD a must have for the connoisseur of Sun Ra’s furthest interplanetary journeys. Thank you, Atavistic, for another fine Sun Ra Sunday!

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