Robert Mugge’s Sun Ra – A Joyful Noise (1980) comes to Blu

February 25, 2016 | By

SunRa_featuredI’d heard of Sun Ra years ago, but even then I knew he was a jazz pianist, plus a figure associated with a more theatrical presentation of jazz music.

One day I bought a LP of Walt Dickerson’s sublime Impressions of Patch of Blue (1965), a great reworking of Jerry Goldsmith’s Patch of Blue themes into material that sounded nothing like the original – an approach that probably delighted Sun Ra who was a player on the recording.

The good: the album got a measure of play.
The bad: the album is one of those dastardly quirks of fate where there’s no Side B – just Side A pressed on both sides, so to this day I’ve never heard the other half of the album!

In addition to Dickerson – a sorely forgotten figure in jazz – the name of Sun Ra stayed in my mind, buried for a while, but a figure I knew one day I’d explore.

Jump ahead 20 years and I’m still a bit behind in getting to know this eccentric, but two things recently caught my eye online: a pair of performance recordings of Sun Ra and his Arkestra with visuals created by Bill Sebastian and his OVC gizmo, a kind of mega-organ that renders 3-D styled video graphics.

SunRaJoyfulNoise_BRIt’s a seamlessly match of Sun Ra’s music with amazingly intricate imagery, and by coincidence there are two YouTube extracts, “Calling Planet Earth” and “Sunset on the River Nile.” Some info on the Sebastian’s gizmo is detailed at Video Cicuits as well as Sebastian’s own site, Visual Music Systems. (Another video, “Return of the OVC,” is also available.)

In both pieces, one can see Sun Ra as an artist who adapted himself in part to his own eccentric visions as well as adopting sounds and contemporary synths and keyboards in a quest to stay spiritually young – quite unusual for an artist whose career goes far back into the 1930s and 1940s playing a variety of classic jazz styles.

Although he continued to play well into his senior years, he was still a force to be reckoned with in 1980 when Robert Mugge directed Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise, a 16mm 50 min. documentary recently reissued on Blu-ray by MVD Visual from very clean film materials.

In addition to the review, here are the links to those two aforementioned OVC-backed performances:



And those curious about more consumer-grade video synthesizer should jump over to Big Head Amusements, where I’ve posted a trio of test videos made using a Showtime Video Ventures Video Colorizer, a very odd creation that sort of solarizes and creates a kind of internal feedback using three primary colours. When sound is fed in – especially electronic music and jazz – and the footage is imported into Adobe Premiere and layered with minor effects, you get candy-coloured animations like the following:








Thanks for reading,




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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