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Disconauts Are Go!
Forget Apollo, NASA and the Space Shuttle...the most exciting explorations of space in the last 30 years have been carried out through music.
Emerging on the radical fringes of jazz in the 1950s, Sun Ra (1914-1993) and his Intergalactic Research Arkestra (as his band was later known) set the space vibe in motion with intersteller explorations like 'Space Jazz Reverie', 'Love in Outer Space', 'Disco 3000' and the film 'Space is the Place'.
Described by one critic as a "comic-strip version of Sun Ra", George Clinton developed his own funky cosmic Afronaut mythology in the 1970s through his work with Funkadelic and Parliament. For instance, the album 'Mothership Connection' (1975) is based around the concept of aliens visiting earth to take the funk back to their own planet.
Sun Ra and Clinton's work can be read as a sort of sci-fi take on Marcus Garvey. While Garvey dreamt of Black Star Liners shipping black people from slavery across the ocean to an African utopia, they leave the planet altogether.
Space continued to be preoccupation during the 1970s disco boom. Derided by rock critics for its lack of serious content, disco had a distinct utopian element. In disco the intensity of pleasure on the dancefloor was reimagined as an ideal for living rather than just a Saturday night release. The implicit fantasy was of a 'Boogie Wonderland' where music, dancing and sex were organising principles, rather than work and the economy. "Lost in music, feel so alive, I quit my nine-to-five", as Sister Sledge put it.
In the unpromising social climate of the 1970s, this wonderland was sometimes projected into space. Earth, Wind and Fire (who recorded 'Boogie Wonderland') combined elements of Egyptology and sci-fi with albums like 'Head for the Sky' (1973) and 'All n All' (1977) with its cover pic of a rocket taking off from a pyramid. In the late 1970s there was a rash of space themed disco hits like Sheila B. Devotion's 'Spacer' and Slick's '(Everybody goes to the) Space Base' (1979), the latter imagining the space base as disco and social centre rather than military-industrial installation.
Some of these space records can be viewed as simple cash-ins on the popularity of Star Wars and similar films of this period, but was there something deeper going on? While the sale of disco records reaped big profits for the record companies,the logic of the dancefloor was potentially at odds with the society of domination. On the floor pleasure was elevated above the puritan work ethic and hierarchies of class, race, gender and sexuality were (sometimes) dissolved.
Discos (like today's dance spaces) could have been the launchpad for explorations of different worlds on earth and beyond, powered by the Dance Disco Heat energy on the floor. In this light the disco icon par excellence, the glittering mirror ball, has to be re-evaluated. Detailed archaeological investigations of the alignment of these spheres of light suspended high above the dancefloor will doubtless reveal that they were installed to equip dancers with a rudimentary astronomical knowledge to help them find their way around the universe.
Take A Dancing Flight
Exactly 30 years after NASA launched the Apollo space programme, Disconaut AAA has unveiled its own Dionysus Programme.
When Apollo 1 caught fire on the launch pad in 1967 it marked the start of the US government's biggest ever space effort. But why Apollo? If pagan deities was the name of the game there were plenty of others to choose from. To answer this we have to turn to Fred Nietzsche, 19th Century German philosopher and dance enthusiast.
In 'The Birth of Tragedy', Nietzsche identified two antagonistic cultural tendencies with the Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus. Apollo was associated with restraint, control, order and rationality. The rituals of Dionysus, on the other hand, involved music, passion, wine, intoxication, and the dissolving of boundaries.
As part of the military industrial complex, seeking to extend the control of the imperial order through the conquest of space, NASA's programme could only be Apollonian. The Dionysus Programme has been launched in direct opposition to Apollo and its successors, to put into practice Disconaut AAA's mission to explore the potential of dance cultures for the exploration of space.
The starting point for the Dionysus Programme is Nietzsche's description of "the glowing life of the Dionysian revellers": "In song and in dance man [sic ] expresses himself as a member of a higher community; he has forgotten how to walk and speak; he is about to take a dancing flight into the air...He feels himself a god, he himself now walks about enchanted, in ecstasy...He is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art". Phew, all this without MDMA.
Disconaut AAA are attempting to apply this insight into the links between dance, ecstasy and flight as we leave the twentieth century. For some years experiments have been carried out in a global network of underground laboratories of pleasure. We can now report some of our preliminary findings:
* The Dionysus Programme has accumulated extensive evidence of near-flight experiences on the dance floor. Participants typically report sensations of 'rushing', of accelerating velocity, of the body tracing a line of flight and of leaving behind 'the real world' and establishing a direct connection with the wider universe. There are clear parallels here with the effects on the body and the euphoric feelings of escaping gravity associated with 'lift off' by more traditional means.
* In the Dionysus Programme we have tried to break the tyranny of liquid-fuel rocket propulsion and to identify alternative fuel sources and means of transport. In the process we have experimented with a range of easily ingested chemicals, some of them derived from plants, others artificially manufactured. These substances have contributed some invaluable insights and certainly have a role, particularly in maintaining the stamina needed for long flights. However we have to report that several of our experimental human probes which were successfully blasted beyond the atmosphere with chemical propulsion quickly crashed down to earth and vanished without trace, while others are now drifting aimlessly in space circumscribing ever decreasing circles around their own navels.
* The Dionysus Programme has conducted a whole range of tests with extremely high tempo electronic sounds. Our hypothesis was that a continual acceleration in beats per minute would enable us to reach earth's escape velocity and take off. Unfortunately, after prolonged uninterrupted exposure to these tests the ship began to break up and several participants showed signs of exhaustion and in some cases nausea. Future experiments will attempt to reduce the risk of side effects by introducing greater variety and rhythmic complexity.
* Ill-fitting space suits have been an ongoing problem in the Dionysus Programme. A major difficulty has been the rigid masculine character armour which even some potential astronauts seem unable to discard. Dance cultures provide a space where it is possible to escape the confines of a fixed identity and explore a range of subjectivities and possibilities. Sadly a lot of men in particular seem afraid to appear as anything other than cool, serious and controlled. Clearly this is incompatible with the flexibility required in space. Disconaut AAA are developing fun fur and sequin space suits to help overcome this.
* The present efforts of the Dionysus Programme are geared towards the Dreamtime project, through which AAA groups around the world are imagining what life will like in autonomous communities in space. Dance settings provide a unique opportunity for collective dreaming, not the passive dreams of sleep but the visions of the lived body in perfect motion.
Here we are not only able to think about life in space, but to feel what it will be like to live in an autonomous community. Nietzsche described this sensation: "Under the charm of the Dionysian not only is the union between man and man [and woman] reaffirmed, but Nature which has become estranged, hostile, or subjugated, celebrates once more her reconciliation with her prodigal son, man...Now the slave is free; now all the stubborn, hostile barriers, which necessity, caprice or 'shameless fashion' have erected between man and man, are broken down. Each one feels himself not only united, reconciled, blended with his neighbour, but all as one with him".
By creating autonomous zones in our own parties on earth we can create conditions that prefigure autonomous communities in space. To do this we have to neutralise the negative effects of various black holes which suck energy out of dance cultures, such as commercial promoters and the police. This will be the focus of the next stage of the Dionysus Programme.
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