Alter Destiny—A Survivor’s Guide

Thomas Stanley

Sun Ra said it: Alter Destiny is a verb and a noun. Like the name of his big band, the titles of his many musical works, even his own name, it is a proprietary coinage, an indivisible part of his “brand.” It is, arguably, the entelechial apex atop a century-spanning conceptual art pyramid erected through Sun Ra’s monumental lifework.

On Oct. 6, 1990, I interviewed Sun Ra while working at the radio station WPFW-FM in Washington, D.C. When I asked him if there was a future for people on this planet, this is how he answered:

“You have to use an equation and use the vice future, the alter future. You know, in the church they use the altar, a-l-t-a-r. You got to use a-l-t-e-r, alter; that means change. In other words, you substitute a future for the one you got. The one you’ve got ain’t no good. Pull it out. You put the vice future in there, like you put the vice president in there if the president fails. Well, you’ve got a vice future. The vice future is pure—you ain’t did nothing with it. But the future is based on the past. The vice future stands by itself; it has no past. It’s never been used.”

Pull it out! The dystopian-train-wreck of a future promised us by Techno-Feudalism is neither desirable nor inevitable. Extirpate that vile nonsense. This other future—the one that is pure and not based on the past—defines a state of affairs, a direction, unlike destiny, unlike where we are going, unlike where we have been. Sun Ra gave us an idea about human development beyond the myriad racist, patriarchal, violent and often Eurocentric progressivisms that have plunged our planetary home into chaos, bloodshed and ecological catastrophe. Our cultural toolbox is empty, Sun Ra wants us to know, and there is something folded up within the occult wealth of human potentiality that must emerge—soon—lest all is lost.

Alter Destiny. If it’s on a T-shirt, it must be real. It’s a small chunk of language, a key unlocking large powers and capacities that will allow us to realize sustainable futures that are not subordinate to the same imperial regime that fucked up our planet in the first place. History is the plantation, abolitionist Ra reminds us, and it is time to break loose from these chains and leave.

Thomas Stanley (a.k.a Bushmeat Sound) is an artist, writer and activist deeply committed to audio culture in the service of noetic (r)evolution. In 2014 he authored The Execution of Sun Ra, a critical response to the cosmological prognostications of the late jazz iconoclast. His doctoral work examined Butch Morris' art of conduction as an extended meta-instrument opening unexplored avenues for musical pedagogy and ensemble consciousness. Dr. Stanley is a professor of sound art and critical theory at George Mason University.

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