Hear a Reading of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake Set to Music: Features 100+ Musicians and Readers from Across the World

In a post last year on an ambi­tious musi­cal adap­ta­tion of Finnegans Wake, I not­ed that—when most in baf­fle­ment over the Irish writer’s final, seem­ing­ly unin­ter­pretable, work—I turn to Antho­ny Burgess, who not only pre­sumed to abridge the book, but wrote more lucid com­men­tary than any oth­er schol­ar­ly crit­ic or writer­ly admir­er of Joyce. In his study ReJoyce, Burgess described the novel—or whatever-you-call-it—as a “man-made moun­tain… as close to a work of nature as any artist ever got—massive, baf­fling, serv­ing noth­ing but itself, sug­gest­ing a mean­ing but nev­er quite yield­ing any­thing but a frac­tion of it, and yet (like a tree) des­per­ate­ly sim­ple.”

Joyce did seem to aspire to omni­science and the pow­er of god­like cre­ation, to sup­plant the “old father, old arti­fi­cer” he beseech­es at the end of A Por­trait of the Artist as a Young Man. And if Finnegans Wake is a work of nature, it seems to me that we might approach it like nat­u­ral­ists, look­ing for its inner laws and mech­a­nisms, per­form­ing dis­sec­tions and mount­ing it, flayed open, on dis­play boards.

Or we might approach it like poets, painters, field recordists—like artists, in oth­er words. We might leave its innards intact, and instead rep­re­sent what it does to our minds when we con­front its nigh-inscrutable ontol­ogy.

This lat­ter approach is the one adopt­ed by Way­words and Mean­signs’ lat­est release, which brings togeth­er record­ings from over 100 artists from 15 dif­fer­ent coun­tries—some semi-famous, most thrilling­ly obscure. Joyce’s book, explains project direc­tor Derek Pyle, is “the kind of thing that demands cre­ative approaches—from jazz and punk musi­cians to sound artists and mod­ern com­posers, each per­son hears and per­forms the text in a way that’s total­ly unique and end­less­ly excit­ing.” We first com­ment­ed on the endeav­or two years ago, when it released 31 hours of unabridged Joyce inter­pre­ta­tion. Last year’s sec­ond edi­tion great­ly expand­ed on the singing, read­ing, and exper­i­men­tal noodling of and around Finnegans Wake.

The third edi­tion con­tin­ues what has becom­ing a very fine tra­di­tion, and per­haps one of the most appro­pri­ate respons­es to the nov­el in the 78 years since its pub­li­ca­tion. This release (stream­able above, or on Archive.org) adds to the sec­ond edi­tion a belat­ed con­tri­bu­tion from icon­ic bassist and song­writer Mike Watt (of The Min­ute­men, fIRE­HOSE, and solo fame) and “actor and ‘JoyceGeek” Adam Har­vey. (And a Gum­by-star­ring illus­tra­tion, above, by punk rock cov­er artist Ray­mond Pet­ti­bon). The third unabridged col­lec­tion of inter­pre­ta­tive musi­cal read­ings, fur­ther up, offers con­tri­bu­tions from:

Mer­cury Rev vet­er­ans Jason Sebas­t­ian Rus­so and Paul Dil­lon, Joe Cas­sidy of But­ter­fly Child, Rail­road Earth’s Tim Car­bone and Lewis & Clarke’s Lou Rogai, psych-rock­ers Kin­s­ki, vocal­ist Phil Minton, poet S.A. Grif­fin, trans­la­tor Krzysztof Bart­nic­ki, “krautrock” pio­neer Jean-Hervé Péron of faUSt, British fringe musi­cian Neil Camp­bell, Mar­tyn Bates of Eye­less in Gaza, Lit­tle Spar­ta with Sal­ly Timms (Mekons) and Mar­tin Bill­heimer, com­pos­er Seán Mac Erlaine, indi­etron­i­ca pio­neer Schnei­der TM, and many more.

If some­thing on that list doesn’t grab you, you may have stum­bled into the wrong par­ty. In any case, you’ll find hun­dreds oth­er read­ings, songs, etc. to choose from in the expand­ing three-vol­ume com­pi­la­tion. Or you can lis­ten to it straight through, from the first edi­tion, to the sec­ond, to the third. Like the book, this project cel­e­brates, imi­tates, reflects, and refracts, Way­words and Mean­signs admits entry at any point, and near­ly always charms even as it per­plex­es. The fact that no one can real­ly grasp the slip­pery nature of Finnegans Wake per­haps makes the book, and its best cre­ative inter­pre­ta­tions, all the more gen­uine­ly for every­one.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

James Joyce’s Ulysses: Down­load as a Free Audio Book & Free eBook

Hear All of Finnegans Wake Read Aloud: A 35 Hour Read­ing

James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake Gets Turned into an Inter­ac­tive Web Film, the Medi­um It Was Des­tined For

H.G. Wells Reads Finnegans Wake & Tells James Joyce: It’s “A Dead End,” “You Have Turned Your Back on Com­mon Men” (1928)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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