In 2014, two adventurers set out with a simple question – “How many ways are there to read James Joyce’s great and bizarre novel Finnegans Wake?” This question, no doubt with infinite answers and outcomes, was to be answered by musicians, writers and artists. They themselves would interpret and propose new readings by setting the words of Finnegans Wake to sound.
For those unfamiliar, as I was before learning about this project, Finnegans Wake is a novel published in 1939 and is renowned not only for its classic author James Joyce but for its bewildering structure, content and word choices. In the plainest terms, it’s a highly experimental work. Consider this short excerpt:
“Sir Tristram, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had passen-core rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war: nor had topsawyer’s rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County’s gorgios while they went doublin their mumper all the time”
One cannot easily decipher language like this – so tangled, nonsensical. It seems to be less a venture in narrative and story arcs and more an investigation of the many possibilities and sounds of words. So to me, the emphasis that “Waywords and Meansigns” has placed on the translation of this text into music makes perfect sense.
Since 2014, the project itself has gone through two iterations and is now in its third edition. Derek Pyle continues the journey as the Project Director and the idea has attracted artists like Mike Watt, Jason Sebastian Russo (Mercury Rev), and Papa Sprain to contribute music. I have the pleasure today of presenting a sneak peak of two tracks by local and Boston relevant artists off the new edition.
John Shakespear of Atlas Lab added a song titled “High Tigh Tigh”, an acoustic number featuring guitar and vocals. It’s breezy and flowing, relaxed but slightly nervous. About midway through, there’s a marked break – the song stops and synths and a drum machine enter to fill out what was once empty. The chords themselves are in a country-blues style, even the vocal delivery hints at some kind of southern drawl. The track feels hymnal, reflective and emphasizes rhyming, repetition and alliterations from the text.
Steve Gregoropoulous, a highly prolific composer and leader of the previously Boston based band Wild Stares, provided a track called “Recirculation”, an adventurous, contemporary response to the novel. The song begins with dissonant, churning rhythms and melodies. The whole thing shifts like an angry sea shanty but blends elements of contemporary classical and noise rock. Reflecting, I think, on some of that stream of consciousness style of writing, the song frequently changes moods and allows for ebbs and flows between the absurd and the recognizable. At some point a more straightforward rock and roll number begins and many voices join on the repeating guitar chords. Finally, a chugging section and a quick change of tempo brings us out and a powerful vocal harmony ends all of this. The track is 6 minutes in length and it’s a bewildering document of dense composition. There are many instruments – mandolins, acoustic guitars, drums, vocal parts. It is a slurry of sound.
Check out the tracks below and follow along with the progress of this project. This edition titled “Opendoor Edition” will be released on May 4th via the site at http://www.waywordsandmeansigns.com/. You can listen to audio from the other editions and learn more about the project there too.
And finally, as this is the Opendoor Edition, If you would like to submit a recording of your own to this project, you can contact Derek here.