Soundwalk Collective was always about much more than the craft of the duo at its core. Over the years they have comfortably grown into their roles as facilitators for experimentation and collaboration.
The two men that constitute Soundwalk Collective have not always worked together. It was only when founder and artist Stephan Crasneanscki bumped into producer Simone Merli in New York back in 2008 that the stars aligned. Crasneanscki had until that point been building an experimental group for sound research which developed site- and context-specific sound projects, through which he wanted to examine conceptual, literary, or artistic themes.But with Merli joining the ranks, a synergy sparked that would unleash the collective’s full potential. Since then Soundwalk Collective has been releasing albums at a high pace, with a continuous release cycle spanning over a decade. Starting out with Medea (2012) – an album based on recordings of radio waves and voice and sound fragments collected during a two-month crossing of the Black Sea in a sailing boat – and most recently with last year’s Lovotic (2022), a joint project with the French singer Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Yet, even though they have been busy releasing albums, their practice is not confined to the functionality of the release feedback loop. Instead, Merli noted in an interview with Ex Berliner, their approach is much more free and prioritizes the creation of “narrative pieces” that “form the hub for collaboration in every project.” Here Merli touches on a foundational element of the collective’s raison d’être. Because Soundwalk Collective may exist as a duo on paper, their compositions could not come to life without the help of a continuously rotating constellation of sound artists and musicians, complemented by a wide range of distinguished collaborators. From legendary new wave director Jean-Luc Godard, to photographer Nan Goldin, punk icon Patti Smith, and Ethio-Jazz pioneer Mulatu Astatke, all have joined forces with the collective. Soundwalk persistently pulls artists into their universe, while at the same venturing into unknown territory themselves. And while some collaborations appear to be deliberate clashes of style, others are just happy accidents.
The latter was the case for their collaboration with Smith, as she told in an interview with Numero:
“The two of us [Smith and Crasneanscki] actually met while travelling. I was on a plane from Paris to New York, back from Morocco where I went to a festival celebrating the Beat Generation. Stephan was sitting next to me. I don’t usually like talking to people on the plane, but he was reading a book about the singer Nico. Nico was my friend. I had read a lot of books about her but not this one. So, I asked him about the book, and he told me that he was working on a musical and poetic project about Nico’s last days and hours of her life. I asked him: “Who’s going to read Nico’ s poems?” He replied: “I don't know yet. We’ll find someone.” Then I spontaneously said, “I’ll do it. She was my friend. I think I’ve understood her.” The next day I went to Stephan’s studio in New York, which was a short walk from my house, and we started working together. As we finished this album called Killer Road (2016), we thought: “We’re not going to leave each other like that. That’s too bad. Let’s do more together!””
Eventually this first collaboration would lead to a long-standing creative partnership between Merli, Crasneanscki, and Smith that concentrated on the work of the three French poets Antonin Artaud, Arthur Rimbaud, and René Daumal and materialized in the Perfect Vision triptych of albums. Central to the work was the poets’ travels to different lands to find new perspectives about themselves and their art. During Rewire 2023 Soundwalk Collective & Patti Smith, together with musicians from Mexico and Paris, will perform a new version of their liveshow, with visuals by filmmaker Pedro Maia.