Paul Bowles: Time Traveling with Musical Recordings from Mid-20th-Century Morocco

Paul Bowles’s VW bug along a Morocco mountain road, with a small group

“If you’re unfamiliar with Paul Bowles and hoping to get a primer, this article will only lead you further astray. It won’t help you understand his writing style, composing quirks, or cultural significance. Instead, it’s an appeal for the value of winding, irregular melodies and enigmatic rhythms. It’s a defense of the love of dust. And also a strong recommendation that you track down this collection of music and figure out how to make it work for you. Sometimes the best way into something completely unfamiliar and complex is to try to get a picture of how it operates on a purely mechanical level. For example, here’s Paul Bowles — in 1970 and under the deluded impression that he’s European — describing the way that Moroccan folk music, like the material collected in this box set, is best enjoyed. It’s not required that you slice yourself while listening to this majestically packaged four-CD set of recordings, but as you launch these digital treasures from your hard drive or cloud or compact disc machine, keep in mind that the folk music performances captured by Paul Bowles in 1959 — and collected here by Dust-to-Digital as Music of Morocco — were recorded on ¼-inch reel-to-reel tape, on an Ampex 601. That is a ‘portable’ audio recording device that weighs 26 pounds, before the addition of a microphone or a power supply to the package. Think about that while looking at Bowles’s hand-drawn map of his six-month journey. Imagine the elevation it doesn’t articulate in any detail, the amount of dust, the stamina of the kinds of automobiles that existed in the 1950s and might have made their way to Africa, and the conversations and negotiations and setup that must have been involved in producing each individual recording. The resulting audio quality is astounding. It takes you, right now, at least 66 years back in time to a cultural moment that Bowles knew was on the verge of disappearing, and immerses you in it so vividly that you can almost smell it. …”
Hyperallergic (Video)
Paul Bowles’s Music of Morocco transports us to an older world
Journey Through Morocco by Paul Bowles (1963)
1960s Day of Rage: Music of Morocco: Recorded by Paul Bowles (1959)

Hand-drawn map by Paul Bowles, showing his itinerary through Morocco in 1959, aboard a VW Beetle, filled with recording equipment, supplies, and recording team

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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