Sunday mornings at the Legation are usually very quiet, much like the sleepy streets of Tangier. This Sunday, however, we were honored by a special visit from Idaho Senator James E. Risch and his family. Ambassador Dwight Bush came from Rabat to meet the Risch’s and welcome them on their first visit to Morocco. The family decided to visit Tangier while on vacation in southern Spain. Vicky Risch, Senator Risch’s wife, felt drawn to the idea of visiting the Legation: “I read about the museum before coming to Spain and I just knew that I had to see it.”
It was the only way I could think of to get the opus of Morocco’s traditional music, recorded in 1959 by Paul Bowles and digitized by TALIM in 2010, into the hands of King Mohammed VI: have a leather presentation case made, embossed with the TALIM logo and dedicated to His Majesty.
US Ambassador to Morocco Dwight Bush now has it, and will present it at an appropriate occasion. Morocco’s musical heritage will have been repatriated after more than fifty years in the vaults of the Library of Congress.
Continue reading “Morocco’s Music: Archives to Archnet”
No, TALIMblog has not become "BOWLESblog," but it may seem so, with a recent spate of activity in a surprising number of venues on the man's work recording for posterity the musical heritage of Morocco in 1959. And anyway, there's already the authoritative Paul Bowles website.
Today, we're featuring a number of very exciting moves, including the upcoming 2 April Marrakesh performance and presentation of a research project related to the Bowles collection of traditional Moroccan music. Here is sound artist Gilles Aubry's account of his "Ears Preservation" project:
Following the 2010 repatriation of the Bowles Moroccan music collection to Morocco via TALIM, artists Zouheir Atbane and Gilles Aubry have started a collaborative research in order to re-examine discourses and practices related to cultural preservation and audio recording.
Their project, "A Moroccan Anthology of Ears Preservation," involves returning some of the Bowles recordings to their original recording location in order to discuss them with local musicians.
Various questions are addressed in the process, including how to make sense of 50 year old music recordings from a local perspective? Which cultural elements have been preserved? Which ones are missing? What should be done with this collection today?
After the presentation of their installation and "Who Sees the Mystery" at the recent Marrakech Biennale of contemporary art, Aubry & Atbane are now on a residency at the French Institute in Marrakech, further developing their project together with guests Natasha Pradhan, NYU's Anna Reidy and Robert Millis. The results will be presented to the public on 2 April at the Riad Denise Masson in Marrakech.
We are particularly pleased that American scholars Pradhan and Reidy and Swiss researcher Aubry have been among the handful of students of Morocco's music who have taken advantage of our digitized collection of the Bowles Library of Congress recordings.
Meanwhile, back in the United States, we're seeing encouraging efforts to get that digitized collection online, and even to release a four-CD album of excerpts from the collection, updating the two-LP album which was released in the Seventies. And in Europe, where interest in Bowles' work has always been high in musical and cultural circles, we hope to pursue projects that will further disseminate the music of Morocco that he was instrumental in preserving.
Now, if the Moroccan authorities would just honor their commitment – from 2010, year of the Bowles Centenary – to do something (radio programs? museum of Moroccan music? cultural programs throughout the country?) with the digitized the collection repatriated to Morocco…
Reminds me of what Paul Bowles wrote over a half century ago, "there is no fast way of listening to Berber music."
Text Gerald Loftus; photos Gilles Aubry
Lynnsay Maynard (photo, left), former public radio producer/host at MPBN, now manuscript reader with Electric Literature (Brooklyn, NY), reflects on the work of Paul Bowles in recording and preserving Morocco's traditional music and the role of the American Legation in continuing his work. Lynnsay's guest post originally appeared on The View From Fez, probably Morocco's best English-language blog of the cultural scene. We are happy to "cross-post" with them.
Due to the length of the article, this is a "split post" – just click on the highlighted line midway through the article to continue reading.
– – – – – – – – –
In early March of 1959, the first performances of Tennessee Williams’ play “Sweet Bird of Youth” opened at Martin Beck Theatre in New York City starring Paul Newman and Geraldine Page. Directed by Greek-American Broadway and Hollywood legend Elia Kazan, most famous for conceptualizing ‘method acting’, the production of the Hollywood-lustful gigolo Chance Wayne would go on to garner four Tony Award nominations and enjoy over 350 performances in its initial run. Hidden amongst the dazzling list of cast and crew was the production’s composer: Paul Bowles, an American composer and author known preeminently for his 1949 novel “The Sheltering Sky” and his notoriously colorful expatriate lifestyle in his adopted home base of Tangier, Morocco.
Bowles was busy in 1959. A collection of his short stories, “The Hours after Noon”, was published. From Tangier, he was caring for his wife, writer Jane Bowles, who had suffered a debilitating stroke two years prior. A lifelong friend and collaborator of Williams, “Sweet Bird of Youth” marked the third production to which Bowles penned the music. And in the spring, Bowles was awarded a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation totaling $6,800 to fund an expansive project in conjunction with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress (LOC): travel across Morocco and record as much folk, tribal and modern music as possible.
After a weeks’ training on Ampex reel-to-reel recording equipment at the LOC in Washington D.C., Bowles returned to Tangier. In early August, Bowles set out in a Volkswagen Beetle stocked with equipment, bedding and pots and pans accompanied by Christopher Wanklyn, a subdued American associate of Bowles’, and Mohammed Larbi Jilali, a kif-dependent native Moroccan who knew the local officials and the terrain.
My stint, in attempting to record the music of Morocco, was to capture in the space of the six months which the Rockefeller Foundation allotted me for the project, examples of every major musical genre to be found within the boundaries of the country… By [December 1959]… I already had more than two hundred and fifty selections… as diversified a body of music as one could find in any land west of India.
Paul Bowles, Their Heads Are Green ("The Rif, To Music")
During four, five-week trips separated by days of respite in Tangier, the trio zipped across Morocco visiting 23 cities and towns along the Rif and Atlas Mountains, northern Sahara and southeastern and northern corners operating from a map of Bowles’ design. In his essay, “The Rif, To Music”, Bowles details portions of the trip including terse negotiations over performance costs, audible gunfire from Oujda, a town 5km west of Algeria which was in the throes of its revolution against French forces and the unbridled joy of a hot shower after days of traversing unpaved back roads.
As I type this, I'm listening to one of Paul Bowles' compositions from Blue Mountain Ballads, his 1946 musical rendition of poetry by his friend Tennessee Williams, inspired by southern American music. You can listen to selections on Song of America.
But in Tangier last Friday, we had some of those same Bowles ballads live, or as close as we could get to "live" some 15 years after his death. For the overflow audience at the Legation concert – featuring the inauguration of our new (used-but-tuned) piano – Bowles was almost with us again, thanks to his friend and musical heir Irene Herrmann. And it wasn't just Irene on piano; we also had her daughter Kaethe Hostetter playing the violin and Latifa Azmy, soprano of Tangier. What an evening.
Right to left: Irene Herrmann, Kaethe Hostetter, and Latifa Azmy
We have our partners the American Language Center in Tangier and the US Embassy Rabat Cultural Affairs Office to thank for their support. Here's the ALC's abbreviated YouTube video (approx 20 minutes); other photos in this post courtesy Rachid El Mziryahi, ALC.
Natasha Pradhan of ALC – herself a student of Moroccan traditional music – recorded the concert and has made us a podcast – click here.
Irene Herrmann doesn't just apply herself to the keyboard when she evokes Paul Bowles. Selections from his oeuvre (spanning seven decades) are interspersed with readings from his and Jane Bowles' letters and published works, and anecdotes – some never heard before in Tangier, where Bowles spent most of his long and productive life. Her "Paul Bowles, Composer" is a very concise summary of this Renaissance man's musical side, which Bowles, writing in the shadow of Tangier's "Old Mountain," continued even after he became much better known as a writer.
Before Irene Herrmann first met Paul Bowles in Tangier, she had made a pilgrimage to the Henry Ransom Center archives at UT in Austin, finding a wealth of material by Bowles, including unpublished musical scores. When she met Bowles later in Tangier and played some of these for him, he playfully made her repeat the recital until he admitted that he recognized his own work – but only when she played a false note on the third go.
It was this kind of "insider" relationship – without the slightest shade of name-dropping – that makes Irene such a pleasure, and a treasure. Though she only knew Bowles in the last decade of his life, her commitment to music – his music – led Paul Bowles to name Irene Herrmann as his musical inheritor. Irene takes her responsibility very seriously, and is the indispensible reference for work involving not only Bowles' numerous compositions, but also his work to record Morocco's traditional music, a project in which TALIM is very active.
Maybe it's because we have Bowles' music – his compositions, his Moroccan recordings, plus his narration of selected writings – playing at the Legation's Bowles Wing on our iPod continuous loop, but I can hear his melodies echoing in my ear. Now relatively little known, his music is precise, like the man apparently was (it's evident in his writing, too). Precise, but melodious, though sometimes the words can strike a jarring note – Irene Herrmann read us some of Jane Bowles' writing set to music, and the poignant frailty of Jane comes through with painful clarity.
Irene Herrmann last saw Bowles in 1999, "shrinking away in bed, yet still precise in his answers." Herrmann modestly puts herself in the category of mere "performer," and says that Bowles "listened differently; he had a composer's ear."
Those of us who listened to Irene last weekend know that she too has an eye and an ear for detail, and her musical portrait of the man whom some of us never met was a precise as anything that Bowles might have written. A Bowles evening, with Irene Herrmann.
"I did a score on synthesizer, but I don’t consider that composing. There’s no compositional technique involved. I suppose it is composing, though, in a different way."
Paul Bowles interview in New Music Box with Frank Oteri and Ken Smith, January 1998.
By the time Bowles self-deprecatingly admitted that he had indeed used a synthesizer, he had already composed incidental music for three plays put on by the Dramatic Society of the American School of Tangier ("music by Paul Bowles, costumes by Yves St. Laurent" – that's the kind of place Tangier was in those days, where even high school plays turned into international talent shows of Tangier's literary and artistic crowd).
Now, thanks to the efforts of Thomas Gunther, Karim Benzakour, and Oliver Orion, the synthesizer which used to sit in Paul Bowles' apartment in Tangier is safely on display in the Legation's Paul Bowles Wing, where it joins a wealth of other material – books, musical scores, paintings, photos – on this Renaissance man of the 20th century. Thanks to AST – the American School of Tangier – for sharing this piece of history with the museum-going public.
Joseph McPhillips, then Headmaster of the American School of Tangier (AST), had persuaded his friend Patricia Robinson to finance the purchase of the synthesizer. Patricia's son Adam Adams brought it to Tangier and taught Bowles the first steps. Bowles' initial project was to compose the music for the school's production of the Euripides tragedy Hippolytus.
After Adam’s departure, Karim Benzakour of AST (photo at right with Bowles, from the ARTE TV documentary "Der Titan von Tanger") took over as Paul Bowles' synthesizer mentor (click on this link for a YouTube excerpt). This arrangement continued for several years, until Bowles died in November 1999. The keyboard came back to the American School of Tangier, until it was given to the American Legation museum in February 2014 for this exhibit.
According to Bowles' musical heir Irene Herrmann, Bowles' last three scores for AST school plays "were created directly on synthesizer." Our display includes the "floppy discs" for individual "instruments" that got slotted into the synsthesizer, plus other floppies anotated by Bowles "Hippolytes" and "Salomé."
"This machine was used by Mr. P. Bowles to compose music for such AST productions as Salome and Hippolytus. Since all of its technological wonders can now fit on a mobile phone, perhaps it belongs in a museum, if not in an elec. music class."
Oliver, your advice has been followed!
To Thomas Gunther, an American in Paris and friend of the Legation, whose idea it was to display Bowles' synthesizer as part of our exhibit.
And to Karim Benzakour of AST, who not only taught Mr. Bowles a bit about using the machine, but who has lovingly safeguarded this part of Tangier's past.
Gerald Loftus, text and photos
Belgium's francophone classical music FM station, Musiq3, has just aired an in-depth (hour and a half) special on Paul Bowles (click for podcast), and has provided us a photo of an interview at TALIM (courtesy producer Camille de Rijck), along with a vignettes of other Tangier cultural landmarks.
We're happy to be included among interviews with literary figures associated with Bowles: Claude Nathalie Thomas, his translator into French; Daniel Rondeau, until last month French ambassador to UNESCO and author of a book on Tangier; Mona Thomas, author of "Tanger 54;" and Simon-Pierre Hamelin, author and manager of Tangier's great bookstore, Librairie des Colonnes.
The interviews are nicely interspersed with Tangier soundscapes and a mix of Bowles compositions, his narration of excerpts from short stories, and selections from the Library of Congress Moroccan traditional music collection. Just like the iPod loop playing in our Paul Bowles wing.
The program gave us a chance to talk about Bowles as a man of music, reflected in the "Music and Other Muses" theme of the broadcast, and very much a part of the Legation museum's approach to Bowles.
Bowles – his music as much as his writing – continues to be a draw for cultural broadcasting. We've reported before on several European (German, British, and Swiss) programs, as well as Radio Tangier's special on Bowles' Moroccan recordings. In Berlin, Swiss sound artist Gilles Aubry is preparing a exhibit on Bowles' work to preserve Morocco's musical heritage, and in the US, Rounder Records is working with the Library of Congress to publish selections from the 1959 recordings that TALIM had digitized during the Paul Bowles Centenary in 2010.
The Beats go on.
Actually, that line has already been used, but in the sense of the everlasting interest in the Beats, it can certainly be said of Tangier.
Just this week, on BBC World TV, "Fast Track" ran a cultural tourism segment on Tangier which features Kerouac, Bowles, and the Legation.
Tangier's Paul Bowles, though he knew many of the Beat writers, was not one himself: "It's wrong. I was never a Beat writer." Several of his Beat friends, however, were drawn to Tangier because of Bowles.
This year's film release of "On The Road," coupled with what would have been Jack Kerouac's 90th birthday, has rekindled interest in the American writer whose native language was joual, or the French his Québecois immigrant parents spoke at home in Lowell, Massachusetts.
There have been "On The Road" documentaries, and now, as part of Tangier's "Correspondances" literary festival, an evocation of Kerouac by French literary critic and writer Bernard Comment. Among his other works, Comment read from Kerouac's Desolation Angels, which includes "Passing Through Tangiers, France, and London."
The American Legation hosted the Kerouac event, replete with Comment's presentation plus readings of Kerouac in both French and English – the latter by our ubiquitous Fulbright scholar, George Bajalia.
Thanks to a loan from the Institut Français du Nord's Galérie Delacroix, we showed "Un Hommage à Jack Kerouac," part of Jean-Pierre Loubat's photography exhibit on literary Tangier, "Tanger la Fugitive."
There is great interest here in the American role in Tangier's rich literary life. In addition to BBC's Fast Track segment, whose crew came here last year to film our Paul Bowles Wing, this week we've had a team here from Berlin Radio, recording a program on Tangier and Bowles. They are particularly interested in the Bowles Library of Congress recordings that are housed at TALIM. This is the third German radio program on Bowles in the last two years.
Bernard Comment provided us a chance to listen to Kerouac himself, the best possible introduction to his uninterrupted flow of prose, his "beat" which gave its name to the generation of writers.
George Bajalia's heroic reading of excerpts he'd seen 45 minutes before the event from On The Road was a virtuoso delivery of a manuscript that Kerouac originally typed non stop on a 40 meter long scroll of paper over a period of just three weeks with no punctuation or chapters if you please imagine that but his publisher made him retype the 400 pages and then rejected it.
We hope you enjoy watching this short segment (roughly 4 minutes) about Tangier, Paul Bowles, and the Legation, which has been running on the BBC World travel program Fast Track.
With this post, we mark the 200th post or article on TALIM Director's Blog over the past two years.
We now average some 3,000 page views per month, and we have received encouragement from a number of you.
Several readers have contributed guest posts (some have even contributed to our foundation!), and comments have come from people with important insights on Tangier, Morocco, and the activities of TALIM. We especially appreciate contributions to our knowledge of American diplomatic history, as represented by two centuries of engagement in Tangier.
Keep your comments coming!
Headline: "Gore Vidal dies; imperious gadfly and prolific, graceful writer was 86"
Washington Post, Michael Dirda, August 1, 2012
Dirda's article mentions in passing that Gore Vidal was a friend of Paul Bowles, whose short stories Vidal said "are among the best ever written by an American." Vidal was an occasional visitor to Tangier.
Thanks to Daniel Rondeau, French man of letters and current ambassador to UNESCO, we have a glimpse of Gore Vidal as a young man, when in 1949, Jane Bowles accompanies Truman Capote through France en route to Tangier. This is an informal translation from Tanger et autres Marocs, Rondeau's 1997 ode to a city and its cultural fixtures:
It's 1949, and Capote is 25 and has just published, to great acclaim, his first novel. Paris adulates him, and he's asked: "Sir, what are you planning now?" He pretends to have only one thing in mind, and smilingly answers his admirers: "Spend the summer in Tangier."
Capote's best enemy, Gore Vidal, gets wind of these plans. Vidal is the same age as Capote. He has published, to critical acclaim, his first two novels. They travel in the same circles. They hate each other.
Vidal, as nasty as he's smart, if that's possible, departs secretly for Tangier. A few days later, he's hanging out on the docks, hands in his pockets, looking nonchalant, almost innocent, when Truman Capote gets off the ship from Marseille.
Bowles, who was waiting for him, told me: "Truman Capote fell apart when he spotted Gore Vidal. His face looked like a soufflé that had suddenly been put in the freezer. He even broke down for a few seconds and went behind the bulwark to regain his composure."
Gore Vidal drags out the practical joke for a few more days, leaving Capote with the impression that he too was in Tangier until September. Less than a week later, he departs, satisfied to have ruined the arrival of his Enemy Number One.
The Vidal-Capote hatred continued throughout their lives, and even when Truman Capote passed away, Vidal could not resist twisting the knife.