Much of Sun Ra’s identity as a musician stems from breaking expectations and rules, which is evident in the clashing harmonies and high-pitched screeches of the Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy
LP. In what sense is this music mental therapy? Perhaps the therapeutic aspect of the album lies less in the music itself and more in its liberation from traditional musical rules and structure. Sun Ra preferred the label “tone scientist” over that of “musician,” drawing this distinction in part to justify breaking free from the constraints of musical tradition. Ra once noted that many musicians “are imprisoned behind these bars; music’s got these bars and measures you know.” Likening the restrictions of musical bars to prison bars, Ra finds liberation from this prison, the liberty to experiment with the sounds “in between” as the true therapy.
—Sydney Radkoff ’20
From the exhibition: Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow (April 13 – April 16, 2017)