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Sun Ra and Phill Niblock: The Magic Sun

In 1968, filmmaker and minimalist composer Phill Niblock shot the Sun Ra Arkestra performing on the roof of a New York City apartment building. Capturing extreme close-ups (fingers striking keys, lips blowing air, cymbals vibrating rapidly) on high-contrast black and white film, Niblock crafted a striking 17-minute montage that became a classic of underground cinema. The Magic Sun’s kinetic rhythm perfectly matches the Arkestra’s amorphous, free-flying sound. As Niblock’s images fly by, they seem to merge and blur, much as the fluid curves of the Arkestra overlap and build into intangible clouds of energy. Atavistic’s DVD adds one small extra–a few minutes of Sun Ra speaking accompanied by freeze frames from the film–but The Magic Sun alone, rescued from nearly 40 years of obscurity, is worth the price of admission.

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