Experimental audio art group Soundwalk Collective has never been afraid to push boundaries. With pioneering approaches to analyzing, synthesizing, and experiencing historically significant figures and their work, their albums have tackled everything from Nico’s poetry to Antonin Artaud’s field recordings. Though unfolding with varying degrees of success, their work has never been boring. A rotation of interdisciplinary artists, the group was founded by Stephan Crasneanscki and has featured collaborative work from jazz musicians, French film directors, photographers, and more. On their newest project, Peradam, Patti Smith again joins the effort with spoken-word vocals delivered in an expectedly mysterious tone. The album could be described as a meditative essay on French writer René Daumal, each track providing a bed of abstract instrumentals, ambient recordings, and amorphous structures on which Smith narrates lines such as “like a buffalo, he shines” and “I would not speak of the mountain.” If all of this sounds pretentious, that’s because it is. While one with the necessary idiosyncratic taste might enjoy the album, there is an undeniable sense that Smith and her fellow artists are relishing a contrived intellectual high-ground.
Peradam is a difficult album. If music is to be simply defined as audio intentionally arranged, then sure, it’s music. But if we explore the nuance of artistic divisions present–the cross between singing and reciting poetry, the balance and conflict between ambient noise and traditional instruments–we discover one of Peradam’s strengths: The artists are questioning our standards, our very definitions of music. This is an exciting idea, but one that in its not-unprecedented nature and struggle against Peradam’s flaws becomes quickly buried. We now arrive at the issue of artistic influence versus uncreative derivation. By relying so intensely on ideas formed by an uninvolved artist (Daumal), Peradam can’t help but feel unoriginal–creatively void, even. Perhaps, to some, the project is a treatise, a reflection, or homage, but the artists involved made no apparent effort to expand on Daumal’s ideas–or at least their efforts were too weak to display creative or unique thinking. This isn’t to say the concepts found on Peradam aren’t interesting, but it is to say that these concepts are not original to Soundwalk Collective and consequently feel like surface-level, pseudo-intellectualism.
Soundwalk Collective and Patti Smith disappoint on their latest record. Though featuring some interesting sounds, Peradam’s lack of originality in concept and the uninviting sense of pretentiousness it holds quickly distract from its unique combination of experimental instrumentals. When church bells sound on “Hymn To The Liquid,” one might be drawn in by the moaning echos of their ring. But quickly, the song becomes a dull soundscape devoid of texture. Adding Smith’s vocals, the self-assured “trust us, this is high art” vibe becomes obnoxious. Other songs, like “Knowledge Of The Self,” could, upon first listen, recall legends of spoken word minimalism like Laurie Anderson. However, where Anderson impresses with artistic thought, Smith and band bore with regurgitated Avant-poetry. When the closing track has dragged us through over seven minutes of fake intelligence, Peradam has become entirely tedious. It’s difficult to recommend an album so convinced of itself yet so unaware.