The Soundwalk Collective has made music art out of found sounds since 2004. They recorded 2012’s Medea while traversing the Black Sea and fishing for sounds using a scanner and high powered aerial antennas; 2014’s Last Beat used contact microphones on the architecture of a music club to collect vibrations instead of music; 2017’s Before Music There Is Blood collaged deep echoing recordings of classical music played in various halls. This time, in their upcoming The Peyote Dance, they have brought in poet and rock goddess Patti Smith for a trip into Mexico.
The above track “The New Revelations of Being” is a preview of what’s to come. The album title comes from a book by Antonin Artaud, the avant-garde theater director and author, who traveled to Mexico to explore revelatory visions with the Rarámuri people in 1936. Artaud was hoping that peyote would shake his opioid addiction. When he later returned to France, Artaud stayed and remained in an insane asylum, receiving electric shock therapy. His time with the Rarámuri stayed a touchstone of happiness during his darkest days.
With a shared belief that travel expands the mind, the Soundwalk Collective traveled to the same Sierra Tarahumarar region of Mexico as Artaud, visited the same places he stayed, and indeed also took peyote. They recorded instruments and soundscapes, and then back in the States, Patti Smith wrote and recorded poems based on Artaud’s book, his other works, and her own responses to the sound fields.
“The poets enter the bloodstream, they enter the cells. For a moment, one is Artaud,” Smith said about the recording. “You can’t ask for it, you can’t buy it, you can’t take drugs for it to be authentic. It just has to happen, you have to be chosen as well as choose.”
The album is the first in a trilogy with Smith about poets and travel. The other two albums will be based on works and journeys by Arthur Rimbaud and René Daumal, and feature sounds recorded at the Abyssinian valley of Ethiopia and the Himalayan Summit of India respectively.
This not the first time the group has collaborated with Patti Smith. In 2016, they released Killer Road a tribute to Nico and her final days on the island of Ibiza, where the singer plunged to her death on a bicycle ride. The album also featured vocals by Smith’s daughter Jessie Paris Smith.
Soundwalk Collective member Stephan Crasneanscki first met Patti Smith, fittingly, at an airport in Paris, as the two were returning from separate artistic travels: Crasneanscki from Eastern Europe and Russia, Smith from French Guiana and Tangiers.
The Peyote Dance will be released May 31 on Bella Union.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.