I’m painting pictures of things I know about, and things I’ve felt, that the world just hasn’t had the chance to feel... I’m painting pictures of another plane of existence, you might say, of something that’s so far away that it seems to be nonexistent. I’m painting pictures of that, but it is a world of happiness which people have been looking for or say they wanted, but they haven’t been able to achieve it.
I picked up Sun Ra's somewhat hard-to-find Strange Strings session on CD, originally recorded in 1966, at Amoeba Records in Hollywood. I'd heard of it, but not any of the music within. I just knew it was legendary among his dozens of records.
Of all the Sun Ra material I've heard, the mid-60's output is best; experimental, but still rooted in some fundamentals of musical structure. I especially recommend The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra Volume One (1965) as a starting point for his music.
Even for Sun Ra, Strange Strings is challenging, and allegedly the most "out" the Arkestra has gone. Cheap third world stringed instruments (Ukuleles, Mandolins, Kotos, Koras, Chinese Lutes) were purchased from a shop in New York and passed out to the band, all inexperienced in playing these sorts of things. Sun Ra orchestrated by doing little more than pointing at performers, requiring them to make something out of almost nothing. He called it "a study in ignorance".
Somehow, it works for me. I played the album from beginning to end while sculpting, and it was quite a thrill. Difficult, yes. It's abrasive and dissonant, but charged with inspiration and urgency.