Paul Bowles studied with Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, and Nadia Boulanger during the 1920s and early '30s, while living in Europe and North Africa. For the next three decades he wrote music for the New York theater. In 1941 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship to compose the opera The Wind Remains. He returned to Tangier in 1948 to write his second opera, Yerma, for blues singer Libby Holman. He conducted ethno-musicological research in Tangier under a Rockefeller grant in 1959. It resulted in a double album of field recordings entitled Music of Morocco; it was issued by the Library of Congress in 1972.
Most of his compositions were written before 1949. In that year his novel about travelers, The Sheltering Sky, was published. As a composer, Bowles wrote in short forms. Even his operas are constructions of suites of songs. They draw heavily upon American jazz, Moroccan rhythm, and Mexican dance for inspiration. His fiction is generally dark in character and centers around insights of psychological perception.
Black Star at the Point of Darkness, which featured him reading poems and stories, selections from his field recordings from the 1950s, and his Six Piano Etudes. The author and composer collaborated with producer Bill Laswell on the album Baptism of Solitude in 1995. The set featured the writer reading his stories and poems above ambient soundscapes crafted by the producer. Bowles died in 1999.
In April of 2016, Dust-to-Digital issued Music of Morocco: Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959. It was a deluxe four-disc box set that contained his complete field recordings and expanded the original 1972 album to twice its original length. Lavishly decorated in a cigar box, the set was introduced by Lee Ranaldo, and contained field notes from Bowles as well a historical essay and track annotations by Philip Schuyler who worked with the author on the expanded collection.