Soundwalk Collective, Jesse Paris Smith, and Patti Smith have shared a new video for “Fearfully In Danger”, taken from their upcoming collaborative album Killer Road, an album of reinterpretations of Nico’s songs and poetry. The album is out September 2nd on Bella Union. The video features footage of the ensemble performing the song live at Volksbühne in Berlin, and was filmed and edited by Barbara Klein.
The song, originally recorded by Nico on her final album Camera Obscura, begins with field recordings, a trademark of Soundmark Collective’s music, before fading into a droning bed of harmonium, synthesizer, and singing bowl, with a chilling arrangement of the song’s lyrics performed by Patti Smith. It is a remarkable collaboration, showcasing not only Smith’s talent for embodying the words she’s reading but Soundwalk Collective’s talent for creating immersive soundscapes. It is a worthy tribute to the music and legacy of Nico.
A shimmering ambient tone, an electronic underlay to the lulling chatter of crickets, makes way for the unmistakable voice of Patti Smith, quietly intoning, ominously, “The killer road is waiting for you / like a finger, pointing in the night.”
Smith was already a fan of Nico’s unique performance, and her half-spoken, halfsung delivery: “that was interesting and instructive for me when I was young because I had no ambition to be a singer – I was simply trying to deliver my poetry – as she did – in a unique way,” Smith told Zoo. Smith was able to repay the spiritual debt by paying to rescue Nico’s beloved harmonium – which underpinned so much of her work – from the pawnshop in 1978.
And that lonesome drone of Nico’s harmonium makes a late appearance in Killer Road, as part of the haunting electro-organic weave, like an aural heatwave, pulsing and sweltering. Sometimes you hear ocean waves and footsteps, or the thrum of honeybees; the panoply of sound subtly shifts as Nico’s view would have changed as she cycled that day. But then she had a heart attack, fell and hit her head, and was lying by the sound of the road, to a backdrop of crickets, before she was discovered and taken to hospital, only to pass on later that night. “That captivated me,” said Smith, “the idea of merging her language with what was perhaps the last sound she might have heard, besides her own breathing.”
Behind the music and concept of Killer Road is international trio Soundwalk Collective – Stephan Crasneanscki, Simone Merli, and Kamran Sadeghi – who, alongside Patti Smith’s daughter, Jesse Paris, conceived an immersive exploration of the tragic death of Christa Päffgen. Better known as Nico, the Velvet Underground chanteuse, Päffgen died while riding her bike on the island of Ibiza in the summer of 1988.
The roots of Killer Road lie in a fortuitous meeting on an airplane bound for New York. One passenger was Smith; the other was Soundwalk Collective founder Crasneanscki. Soundwalk had previously been a collaborative series of idiosyncratic walking guides to cities, before evolving into musical frameworks for field recordings and sight specific sound installations and performances using a variety of texts and themes.
Killer Road was initially a live audio-visual experience, at the French Institute Alliance Francaise in New York as part of 2014’s Crossing the Line festival. Finally, we now we have the recorded version, a poignant, profound, imaginative exploration and tribute nearly 30 years after that fateful summer’s day.
Killer Road will be released September 2nd 2016 via Bella Union.