Paul Bowles

Baptism of Solitude

I relish the idea that in the night, all around me in my sleep,

sorcery is burrowing its invisible tunnels in every direction...


Perhaps one of the greatest living voices in modern literature, Paul Bowles transcends the ordinary boundaries of what we call writing and poetry; in truth, he is a creator of worlds, a visionary with an imagination so poignant, feverish, inventive , and apparently limitless that his work seems of another mystical time and place altogether. His most famour novel, "The Sheltering Sky," written in 1959, depicts the dreamlike landscape of Morocco -- the bustling activity of the medina, the lurking majesty of the Sahara -- that would become central to his later work as he established permanent residency in Tangier, a city he'd first visited in 1931 at the age of 21. Always the weary traveler, to this day Bowles has never relinquished the thrill of the journey, the magic of discovery that comes from roaming the edges of the earth by diving headlong into the mysteries of the human spirit.

Baptism of Solitude offers an extremely rare and intimate glimpse into the mind of this extraordinary artist. Taped in late 1994 at his home in Tangier, the recording captures the cadence of a modern magus, his readings sounding almost like incantations as they wend their way seamlessly through the ambient soundscapes constructed by producer Bill Laswell. Setting the tone with a stirring passage from his 1966 novel "Up Above the World," Bowles conjures lasting images of love, fury, quiet desparation and supreme enlightenment, all of them inextricably entwined in a mosaic much like those found in the mosques of his adopted city. "There is a drumming out there most nights," he writes in his autobiography. "It never awakens me; I hear the drums and incorporate them into my dream, like the nightly cries of the muezzins."

As a melding of word and sound, Baptism of Solitude explores strange and exotic territory. The ironic union of inner peace and outward foreboding in the title passage is mirrored in the music: Bowles describes the "conscious force" of stillness in the desert over a background of distant winds and echoes, building to the realization that "the absolute has no price." The short line from the poem "You Are Not I" -- one of the few works Bowles attributes directly to a waking dream -- arises and fades in the momentary blink of an eye, fleeting but defiant in its declaration of individuality. Finally, the stream-of- consciousness sequences from "The Sheltering Sky" brilliantly capture the delirium of the character of Port, and "Nights" concludes with the ominous strains of an underwater bowed bass as the author intones, "No voice could be enough, what with this and that, the hours falling faster."

Baptism of Solitude is the first release from the META label, founded by Bill Laswell and Janet Rienstra (originator of the spoken word label Gang of Seven), with CD packaging designed by British-born artist Russell Mills. Dedicated to creating a real environment for poetry, prose, sounds, music, and images, with clear homage to the vision manifested in dreams, META represents the fusing of two languages to create a third: the soundtrack, a meta-language of the imagination.

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