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CD: Soundwalk Collective with Patti Smith - The Peyote Dance | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Soundwalk Collective with Patti Smith - The Peyote Dance

CD: Soundwalk Collective with Patti Smith - The Peyote Dance

Peyote, poetry and a voyage to the otherworld with Patti Smith

'As spiky as the most illuminating giant cacti'

Soundwalk Collective is a multi-disciplinary audio-visual collective founded by Stephan Crasneanscki, a musical psycho-geographer and field recorder, the source material of his works drawn from specific locations: in the case of The Peyote Dance, it's the Sierra Tarahumara of Mexico, also known as "Copper Canyon", and as spectacular a wilderness as you can imagine.

Here, the French Surrealist poet Antonin Artaud came in 1936 on horseback, in search of peyote, a shaman and a cure to opioid addiction. His subsequent encounters with the ceremonies of the Rarámuri Indians and the peyote shamans of Tarahumara did not lift his addiction, but they did offer transcendence and the resulting 1947 classic of drugs literature, The Peyote Dance.

Intense, esoteric stuff, it demands concentration

Seventy two years on, Patti Smith is in a New York studio reading from and improvising upon Artaud’s writings from that book, set to Soundwalk Collective’s soundtrack of found sounds from Copper Canyon – ethno-musical field recordings of drums and pipes and voices and Mexican fiddles that sound as spiky as the most illuminating giant cacti.

Soundwalk Collective recorded in the village and the cave in which Artaud dwelled on his voyage into Peyote, aiming to channel the spirits of time and place via its winds and stray voices, then bringing it back to the studio and turning it into a sound tapestry upon which Smith could imprint her voice patterns, making Artaud’s drug poetry of peyote feel as sticky and rich as the darkest molasses. Mixed with something more interesting.

The Peyote Dance is intense, esoteric stuff. It demands concentration, and sometimes the subtlety and textures of the soundtrack vies with the spoken words for attention, and you can’t happily follow both at the same time. There are six pieces, closing with the most radio-friendly of the set, Smith’s lovely self-penned ‘Ivry’, dedicated to Artaud’s last hours in the psychiatric clinic at Ivry-sur-Seine. Framing these are Spanish-language recitations by Gael Garcia Bernal, evoking Artaud’s passage into the spirit world of the Rarámuri.

Smith’s mode of delivery is set to "incantatory" throughout, it’s something that comes naturally, and she does it well. Following on from their 2016 collaboration, Killer Road, this is the first of a trilogy of collaborations to be released on Bella Union, embracing the poetries of Arthur Rimbaud and René Daumal. Stay tuned, psychonauts, for more thrilling sonic voyages into the interior.

Tim Cumming's website

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