Soundwalk Collective with Patti Smith – ‘The Peyote Dance’ review

This found sound collaboration between the experimental collective and a punk rock legend explores the frightening, ambitious and surreal work of French artist Antonin Artaud

The New York and Berlin-based avant-garde group Soundwalk Collective specialise in “found” sounds; though perhaps the word “found” is misleading. Far from stumbling across sonic oddities by sheer chance and gluing together a scrapbook of accidents, the collective actively seeks out experimental noises, going to enormous amounts of trouble in the process. And they’ve met their match in punk pioneer Patti Smith.

In the past they’ve mounted microphones on the Moscow nightclub ARMA17, ventured into the Amazon rainforest to gather source material direct from a shaman, harnessed the echoes of distant classical music, and dangled sensitive antennas into the Black Sea. And for ‘The Peyote Dance’, a collaboration with punk-poet laureate Smith, Soundwalk Collective journeyed to the canyons of Northern Mexico to retrace the steps of the French writer and director Antonin Artaud.

Artaud travelled to Mexico in the 1930s with the hope of kicking an opioid addiction. Upon ditching the last remnants of his drug supply off the side of a mountain, Artaud resembled “a giant, inflamed gum” (his words) and would go onto experiment with peyote (a type of spineless psychedelic cactus used in various Native American religious rituals). He later wrote about his experiences in ‘The Peyote Dance’, which shares a title with this record.

Rumbling splutters of thunder, the uneasy hum of heat-haze, and paper-cut flurries of birds cutting through the air underpin ‘The Peyote Dance’. It certainly summons up the red earth of Sierra Tarahumara. And Patti Smith is the ideal narrator here, reciting Artaud’s strange and twisted writings with riveting precision. Painting his horrifying, acrid images of vaginas, apocalyptic horsemen, fuck-fests, congealed jizz and stinking deserts, the whole record draws on his final play, To Have Done With the Judgment of god, which was unpublished during his lifetime due to the obscene content.

The muted ‘Ivry’, written by Smith to document Artaud’s final hours, is perhaps marks the only moment at which emotion breaks the meditative trance. Otherwise, ‘The Peyote Dance’ captures the artist from a distance. As a tribute to Antonin Artaud, ‘The Peyote Dance’ captures the frightening, ambitious and surreal work of an artist who was misunderstood during his life, albeit from a spectator’s perspective.