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Live Arts | Activating the Sun Ra Archive

August 05, 20234:00 pm

Kaleidoscopic image of a person in a circle surrounded by flowers that fade to black. Their hands are raised above their eyes, casting a shadow across their face.

Sun Ra, Still from _Calling Planet Earth_, 1986. Image courtesy of Experimental Sound Studio.

About the Event

It was after moving to Chicago that Herman Poole Blount changed his name to Le Sony’r Ra and became the legendary artist the we know today—Sun Ra—embarking on an interstellar, experimental musical journey lasting decades.

In partnership with Experimental Sound Studio (ESS), which houses a large portion of Sun Ra’s archival material, this event activates the Sun Ra Archive by inviting sound selectors and visual artists to use a set of archival materials picked by the MCA’s Community Engagement Manager Otez Gary and ESS.

For this first iteration, curator and DJ Bonita Appleblunt mixes contemporary sounds such as house and Afro house music into audio works from the archive. Then, performer and experimental sound artist Haruhi takes several live performances from the 1970s in Detroit and Chicago along with inserts from the 1986 VHS Calling Planet Earth and reworks them to coincide with the audio piece.

This program is organized in partnership with Experimental Sound Studio and Otez Gary, Former Community Engagement Manager at the MCA.


About the Organization

The Creative Audio Archive (CAA) is a Chicago-based center for the preservation and investigation of innovative and experimental sonic arts and music. CAA is an initiative of the Experimental Sound Studio (ESS), a nonprofit sonic arts organization founded in 1986 for the production, promotion, and preservation of innovative approaches to the sonic arts, including music in its many forms, audio art, radio art, sound poetry, sound installation, and intermedia, performative, and cinematic disciplines in which sound is a major component.

The Sun Ra/El Saturn Collection at ESS consists of approximately 600 tapes dating from the 1950s to 1993 that represent the work of iconoclastic composer and bandleader Sun Ra. The recordings provide a unique documentation of Sun Ra’s creative process, including his work with the Arkestra and its offshoots, vocal groups in Chicago, legendary trumpeter/composer Hobart Dotson, and African percussionists in New York. The collection consists of rehearsal tapes, recordings of live concerts, home recordings of sketches and experiments, and master tapes of material likely intended for commercial release. A number of tapes include lectures and recitations by Ra of original unpublished texts, which offer rare insight into his unique philosophy and a broader context for his musical ideas.

Support for the Sun Ra/El Saturn Collection is provided by Sun Ra LLC, courtesy Thomas Jenkins, Jr.; Irwin Chusid/Sun Ra LLC; and Michael D. Anderson/Sun Ra Music Archive.

About the Artists

portrait of Bonita Appleblunt, smiling, hands cupping face

Bonita Appleblunt. Photo: crimeandkindness.com.

Bonita Appleblunt is a DJ and Audio Engineer originally from Ohio, currently working and making soundwaves in Chicago. They’ve played at numerous locations around the city including The Promontory, Soho House, Subterranean, Virgin Hotels, among many other spots. They specialize in exploring the lineage and inspiration of modern and underground music genres with their African roots.

Haruhi Kobayashi. Photo: Maxwell Thomas, image courtesy of the artist.

Haruhi Kobayashi is a Japanese Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist, sound designer, and engineer, using the voice as the core material. Her work incorporates vocal performance, sound installation, and sonic sculptures to explore human interaction and isolation, intimacy, and spatial control. She is the creative audio archive associate at the Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago, which houses the Sun Ra/El Saturn Collection in collaboration with Corbett vs. Dempsey. She’s worked on digitizing, preserving, and documenting countless Sun Ra items and is working to create archival programs in hopes to share the materials all over the world.

Portrait of a light-skinned man with short dark hair wearing a white t-shirt against a white background. He doesn't smile making it look like a passport photo.

James Wetzel. Image courtesy of the artist.

James Wetzel is an artist and musician based in Chicago, Illinois. He received his BA from Knox College where he studied Music, Visual Art, and German. In 2012 he received a Master of Fine Arts degree in the Sound Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he currently teaches. His music takes various forms, incorporating juke, techno, noise, and free-jazz elements into electronic compositions, manifesting live as drum/analog synth performance. He oversees the Creative Audio Archive including the Sun Ra/El Saturn Collection at Experimental Sound Studio.