Hear James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake Read Aloud & Set to Music: 31 Hours of Free Unabridged Audio

James Joyce’s final and most dif­fi­cult nov­el Finnegans Wake unlocks a lot of its secrets when read aloud, prefer­ably in an Irish accent. In this way, Joyce’s mul­ti­lay­ered word­play makes sense aural­ly even if all the mean­ing might not be appar­ent on paper. (His broth­er, Stanis­laus, called it “the work of a psy­chopath.”)

An audio­book ver­sion would be good—-and there is one by Patrick Healy from 1992 (lis­ten online) —but one with music would be much bet­ter. This month, Way­words and Mean­signs, a project co-found­ed by Derek Pyle, has released its ver­sion of the nov­el with each of its 17 chap­ters per­formed by a dif­fer­ent group of musi­cians and read­ers. The full text is rep­re­sent­ed here in a stag­ger­ing 30+ hours. (You can read along here.)

“Our hope was to cre­ate a ver­sion of Joyce’s book that would be acces­si­ble to new­com­ers, but still feel fresh and excit­ing for devot­ed stu­dents and schol­ars,” says Pyle.

As with all com­pi­la­tion albums, some tracks are bet­ter than oth­ers. Mar­i­ana Lanari & Sjo­erd Leijten’s open­ing chap­ter chops and cuts var­i­ous voic­es togeth­er with a hyp­not­ic elec­tron­ic back­ing, recre­at­ing the con­fu­sion of those open­ing pages and the bar­rage of influ­ences and voic­es. They also per­form the final chap­ter. (Lanari is part of the Rong­Wrong Finnegans Wake Read­ing Group in Ams­ter­dam.) Peter Quadri­no, Jake Read­ing & Evan James take on Book 3, Chap­ter 3, with a mix of faux-Tom Waits and Mar­tin Den­ny pro­vid­ing the back­drop. (Quadri­no is leader of the Finnegans Wake Read­ing Group of Austin, Texas) The jazz­i­er the back­drop, by the by, does reveal Joyce’s con­nec­tion to the Beat poets. Oth­er tracks are dry and more straight-for­ward: face it, not every­body has the most beau­ti­ful read­ing voice. It is def­i­nite­ly a labor of love, and reveals how many FW read­ing groups there are around the globe.

Oth­er artists involved in the project include sax­o­phon­ist Hay­den Chisholm, and painter Robert Amos, whose work you can find at the James Joyce Bistro in Vic­to­ria, British Colum­bia.

Way­words and Mean­signs have released the full project on Archive.org under a Cre­ative Com­mons license. (Stream above or down­load all of the files here.) Those who read this and feel they’ve missed out on the cre­ativ­i­ty of tack­ling Finnegans Wake, don’t wor­ry. The web­site is tak­ing sub­mis­sions for a sec­ond edi­tion.

Relat­ed con­tent:

James Joyce, With His Eye­sight Fail­ing, Draws a Sketch of Leopold Bloom (1926)

F. Scott Fitzger­ald Has a Strange Din­ner with James Joyce & Draws a Cute Sketch of It (1928)

James Joyce Reads From Ulysses and Finnegans Wake In His Only Two Record­ings (1924/1929)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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