Since 1999, Atlanta's Dust-To-Digital has stayed true to their mission "to produce high-quality, cultural artifacts." This four-disc set of field recordings by expatriate writer, composer, and translator Paul Bowles is no exception.
In 1972, the Library of Congress issued a double LP from Bowles' landmark 1959 journey across most regions of Morocco, recording professional and amateur musicians alike. Financed by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the trip was made in five different jaunts and in 22 villages and towns. It netted 250 performances on some 65 hours of tape. It is a legendary document. (Read Lee Ranaldo
's introductory essay to this box.) It was the only one of its kind until 2002 when the Moroccan Ministry of Culture issued a limited edition of the Anthologie de la Musique Marocaine
, a 31-CD set (eventually expanded to 66 discs).
Bowles recorded performances public and private, some captured by happenstance, others formally organized, and still others arranged by the Moroccan government. Some were done merely for the sake of capturing the sound of certain instruments, many were for the purpose of providing evidence of an unfathomably large musical landscape and diverse culture Bowles believed to be in the process of being destroyed by modernity. Sound itself was paramount in his world and informed all
of his work no matter the discipline. That, along with the "hypnotic" character he loved so dearly in Moroccan music, is what is best represented. Evidence of the latter is more prevalent here than it was on the original albums. (To present as much of what he recorded as possible in the LP format, performances -- many 10-15 minutes in length -- had to be edited greatly.)
This is not the work of an ethnomusicologist. Notes are not as detailed as they should be, and Bowles reveals his own preferences and prejudices. None of that diminishes the importance of this music because Bowles was the first to document these sounds for general release.
Philip D. Schuyler compiled and produced this greatly expanded collection with complete approval of the author, who died in 1999. It contains 31 tracks instead of 26. It does not follow the original running order, but does adhere to the broad classifications of Berber and non-Berber music on the album. It contains complete
performances, not edits. Bowles also made one addition: "El Fjer (Tangier): Early Morning Calls to Prayer" on disc four sums up his M.O. nicely. Recorded at night, it contains the sounds of people, roosters, dogs, and a passing truck. The expanded performances of the music provide listeners with a sense of what Bowles heard in them: A vehicle for hypnosis by sound. Raw, immediate, sometimes jarring, they contain small timbral differences in their cyclic nature, serving to draw listeners almost inescapably into their world.
Schuyler offers a detailed, lengthy, historical and musicological essay, and Bowles' original notes are included with annotations from the producer. Maps and diagrams are provided from the journey, as are photographs. Music of Morocco: Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959
is kinetic, vibrant, problematic, and artfully presented for the ages -- just as it should be.