Paul Bowles

Baptism of Solitude

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Bowles is the famous author of The Sheltering Sky and several other novels, not to mention numerous short stories, essays, and poems. His permanent, self-imposed North African exile helped to put that region on the map of Euro-American letters; the influence of Moroccan culture and of the sun-blasted expanses of its desert milieu pervades his writing. Baptism of Solitude is a collection of excerpts read by Bowles himself, accompanied by Bill Laswell's suitably bleak, spacious sound sculptures. There's little music to speak of on this album; instead, as Bowles intones his prose in a laconic, slightly stentorian voice, Laswell lends sonic context to his words with echoey washes and distant, windy howls. The texts are sometimes intensely evocative (as on the title track) and sometimes almost Zen-like in their obscurity, as on "You Are Not I." Others are downright disturbing -- one describes matter of factly the sexual mutilation of a young boy by a Bedouin raider. The stark power of Bowles' writing is such that it's hard not to feel parochial in objecting to such stuff on the grounds of taste, but the faint of stomach should take warning. In any case, this is a remarkable debut release from what promises to be an exciting new label.

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