The sounds of Himalayan winds, sacred mantras and water rippling in the holy river Ganges, invite us to Peradam, the transcendent new album by Soundwalk Collective with Patti Smith. Peradam takes as its entry point René Daumal’s early 1940s novel Mount Analogue: a Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing, in which the French writer, critic and poet mapped a metaphysical journey to “the ultimate symbolic mountain” in search of meaning. In it, Daumal introduced the idea of the “peradam”, a rare, crystalline stone – harbouring profound truths – that is only visible to seekers on a true spiritual path.
Peradam arrives as “the final stone”, says Soundwalk Collective’s Stephan Crasneanscki, in The Perfect Vision, a triptych of albums that evoke and explore the sainted spaces of thought and creativity opened by the three French writers and poets. After albums devoted to Antonin Artaud (The Peyote Dance) and Arthur Rimbaud (Mummer Love), Peradam expands on “the living space”, says Smith, that Daumal left for future seekers to enter and create out of.
Daumal’s spiritual quests ranged wide and deep. Part-influenced by Rimbaud, he also identified with the Pataphysicians, followers of the avant-garde absurdist Alfred Jarry. Daumal experimented with hallucinogens to the detriment of his health, though he would later transfer his passions to the purity of work as he nurtured a fascination with Hindu philosophies and taught himself Sanskrit; Peradam features some of his translations. While Daumal embraced the idea of self-abnegation as the key to internal awakening, he was also drawn to the syntheses of Eastern/Western thought in Greek-Armenian philosopher GI Gurdjieff’s teachings. Daumal’s greatest works include the novels A Night of Serious Drinking and Mount Analogue, which – though unfinished at the time of his death from TB at 36 in 1944 – inspired psychedelic magus Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 film The Holy Mountain as well as the creative journeys undertaken by Soundwalk Collective and Patti Smith.
Following recordings in the Sierra Tarahumara, Mexico and Harar, Ethiopia for their albums devoted to Artaud and Rimbaud, Soundwalk Collective (Stephan Crasneanscki, Simone Merli) travelled to Nanda Devi in the Himalayas, Rishikesh, Varanasi and Kingdom of Lo (Upper Mustang) to channel Daumal’s metaphysical quest in physical sound. “And through our physical travels,” says Crasneanscki, “we discovered the most humble objects of meaning that carry the spirit of what he searched for and found. It can be as simple as a stone, which can inhabit a power almost like a talisman.”
Soundwalk Collective’s musical and field-recording based compositions help to flesh out the enfolding soundscapes of Peradam, alongside contributions from simpatico collaborators. Tenzin Choegyal brought his voice, Tibetan drums, singing bowls, dranyen and damru to the title-track, “Spiritual Death” and closer “The Rat”, a poem by Smith that journeys across a fecund metaphorical landscape of life, death and cyclical nature. “Knowledge of the Self” features the sitar of Anoushka Shankar, who brings with her a family connection to the album’s subject: Daumal toured America as an impassioned spokesman for Uday Shankar, the Indian dancer whose siblings included the great musician Ravi Shankar, Anoushka’s late father.
The actor and singer-songwriter Charlotte Gainsbourg contributes to “The Four Cardinal Times”, while “Nanda Devi” features Dhan Singh Rana, a Sherpa in his 70s who gently encouraged Crasneanscki up the mountain. “And meter after meter, hour after hour, slowly but surely I got there,” says Crasneanscki. The experience proved enlightening, he adds: “The mountain teaches us the slowness and calmness that Daumal wrote of. When you finally arrive and look up at the magistral Nanda Devi summit, Daumal’s words resonate: ‘The Mountain is the connection between Earth and Sky. Its highest summit touches the sphere of eternity, and its base branches out in manifold foothills into the world of mortals. It is the path by which humanity can raise itself to the divine and the divine reveal itself to humanity.’”
The sounds captured and composed by Soundwalk Collective helped Smith in her tough, tender and tactile voicework: readings that dive so much deeper than mere readings. “It’s just attempting to create a breathing body of work that keeps growing as you do it; it’s alive,” she says. “You can’t just do it because you say you’re going to. People can go out to Central Park and record the wind, but we have wind from the top of sacred mountains, we have the sound of stones from the most dangerous parts of the Copper Canyon in Mexico.”
The result is a perfect conclusion to The Perfect Vision, a triptych that reaches beyond the physical, across time and space, to channel the spiritual and philosophical energies and work of earlier seekers. “We are not trying to make a living, we are not trying to have physical gold in our hands – it’s a different type of gold, it’s metaphysical gold,” says Smith. “It’s like a peradam in Daumal’s world. The only time we’re able to hold onto it is during the process. We don’t even get to hold it through our life; only the process.” Out of that process emerges new spaces: living landscapes in which willing explorers may find treasures. The project is complete but the spiritual quest it honours remains open, a process ready for continuation. “In the end,” Smith says, “it goes out into the world and becomes whatever it becomes – perhaps one person in the year 2070 uses it as a springboard for another work.”