from The New Yorker

The Sun Ra Arkestra’s Maestro Hits One Hundred

Marshall Allen, the musical collective’s sax-playing leader, is celebrating with a deep-spacey video installation during the Venice Biennale.

By Robert Sullivan

Illustration by João Fazenda

The Sun Ra Arkestra, the musical collective founded in Chicago in the mid-fifties, moved out of the Lower East Side in 1968, and wound up in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, on a very green side street along the edge of a hill that feels a million miles from anywhere. An old row house became the Sun Ra Arkestral Institute, a place to practice at all hours, in order to be ready. “One day it will happen,” Sun Ra said at the time. “It could be happening now—that a voice from another dimension will speak to earth. You might as well practice and be prepared for it.” The Arkestra practiced and eventually toured the world, the row house filling with gig posters, its plaster walls soaking up decades of music from a band that, under Sun Ra’s leadership, had set out on a course of inter-dimensional travel, using chords and time signatures and equations rather than rocket fuel. Sun Ra died in 1993, and his saxophone players replaced him as director—first John Gilmore, and then Marshall Allen, who last month turned a hundred.

Allen bounded down the stairs to greet a visitor the other day, in between birthday celebrations near and far—near being Philadelphia, where a public performance of the Arkestra was followed by a party for family and friends at a club called Solar Myth, named for a Sun Ra-ism. Across the Atlantic Ocean, during the Venice Biennale, a celebration occurred in the form of a site-specific video installation in an abandoned sixteenth-century church and hospital; it is directed by Ari Benjamin Meyers, a Berlin-based composer, who met Allen in person in 2022, in Philadelphia, and was, like a lot of people, “blown away.”

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