Any return to the studio by punk-poet legend Patti Smith is newsworthy, and this collaboration with the philosopher-Svengalis of Soundwalk Collective means Smith is not blunting her sharp edges. But the surprises don’t stop there. The Peyote Dance (Bella Union) is the first of three albums Soundwalk and Smith will release over the next year, focusing on the vision quests of French poets. The first looks at Antonin Artaud and his visits to the Rarámuri tribe in Mexico. Later installments will explore Arthur Rimbaud’s trips to Ethiopia, and René Daumal’s time in Nepal. As a unified work, The Perfect Vision trilogy will explore how poets dissolve cultural boundaries, similar to Aldous Huxley’s expansionist probe of hallucinogens.
Soundwalk Collective leader Stephan Crasneanscki uses field recordings of found sounds to augment 10-minute-long Artaud poems like “Indian Culture.” Smith adds her own piece, “Ivry,” to the Artaud works, and the readings of Artaud mean her involvement is critical to the project. If she seems melodramatic at times, it only reinforces her 40-year fascination with romanticism. The miracle is that a project this unusual can find an audience in these conformist times, and that Smith has given it her stamp of approval.