Otherworldly music: Is there such a thing as the “space chord”?

Meta Description: Discover how Sun Ra’s transportive music took listeners beyond Earth. Explore the jazz legend’s belief in music’s power to elevate consciousness and transform reality.

Sun Ra’s Transportive Music: A Journey Beyond Earth

Many people describe music as “transportive,” meaning they can put on a particular song, close their eyes, and feel as if they’re being taken somewhere far from their living room. While this sentiment is common, it’s not what Sun Ra meant when he described music as transportive. For the experimental jazz musician, it was a literal statement—he believed music could take listeners off the planet.

Sun Ra was a pioneer in jazz music. He took the rule book on the genre and tore it up for all to see, creating new sounds, tempos, and rhythms in the process. He was among a number of other jazz musicians who were taking apart structure in the name of the genre; however, while many people played this more jarring style of music as a means of political defiance, Sun Ra did it to try and enlighten the world.

Sun Ra’s Belief in Music’s Transportive Power

The musician didn’t believe he was from Earth. Instead, he thought he was from another planet and received transmissions from The Creator about what kind of music to make. It makes perfect sense that if there was a God and they sent someone to Earth, they would send a musician, given how much of a universal language music can be.

This was reaffirmed by one of Sun Ra’s trumpeters, Ahmed Abdullah: “It makes sense to me that if the Creator sent anyone here, it would be a person who had mastered music, the planet’s universal language. Sound is the beginning of all creation, the Nomma, the Om, and the Nam that direct our lives, the basis for what Sun Ra called a Sound Government.”

The Concept of the Space Chord

As someone who believed he had been sent to Earth to play music, it made total sense to Sun Ra that some of the music he played might be difficult for natives of this planet to understand. Abdullah recalls the moment the musician sat him down to prepare him for playing music together, reassuring him that if something doesn’t sound quite right, he shouldn’t worry.

“You got to be ready when you play with this band…when the harmonies move in a direction that they seemingly are not supposed to move in and still fit, you got another message from another realm from somebody else, and Superior Beings would definitely speak in other harmonic ways because they’re talking to something different,” he said, “You have to have chord against chord, melody against melody, and rhythm against rhythm. When you have that, you’re experiencing something else.”

With that attitude, Sun Ra created the “space chord.” What this is specifically is difficult to understand, but it sounds as though, from the band’s perspective, they all knew it when they heard it.

Abdullah tries to explain the concept, which almost certainly needs to be experienced: “A collection of extraterrestrial sounds designed to jar a person’s sensibilities and jolt him or her out of complacency,” he said, “The space chord was always directed by Sunny. Sound, he would explain, could change things because sound was used to run things.”

The Power of Music to Transform Consciousness

The definition of transportive music certainly changes depending on who you’re talking to. Sun Ra is probably the only musician who ever believed his sound could truly transform where someone saw themselves in the world, and the space chord helped him do this. Whether there is any plausibility behind his rationale remains to be seen; however, the fact his music moved so many people throughout his career, and given he is considered by so many to be one of the greatest and most transcendent musicians to ever take to the stage, it would be silly to palm off the idea of a “space chord” as a work of fiction.

Music certainly has properties that extend beyond creating sounds we find appealing. Songs can activate a range of emotions in those who listen, which tend to be associated with moments in the song. For instance, if you go through a nasty breakup and you and your partner used to listen to one particular song, that music will invoke feelings of sadness. This means that for music to jar a person’s sensibilities, they will likely have to have a previous connection with the chords and time signatures used within the song, and this could be what Sun Ra was able to tap into.

Of course, the other explanation would be that he was sent from another planet and actually could activate deeper layers of a listener’s consciousness. The real rationale is up to you.

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