NOTE: Both clips play automatically, pause one to listen to the other separately!

Full podcast with introduction:

Just the drums (turn it up!):

I started this project with a line from the “Sirens” episode, which reads: “Bronze by gold heard the hoofirons, steelyringing” (11. 1). As is noted in Gifford’s annotations, this sentence introduces the two barmaids, Miss Douce, here represented by Bronze, and Miss Kennedy, by gold, who are listening to the viceregal procession go by outside the hotel. This sentence struck me as being musical in a couple of different ways. First, I think it’s usually true that when any sentence is isolated and read aloud, it’s percussive and melodic qualities are immediately revealed, and this is probably especially true for Joyce. The sentence’s perceived musicality then served as a starting point for the piece itself, something which I’ll get to in a minute. Aside from that, the content of sentence itself alludes to sound. The act that the barmaids are engaged in is “hearing” or listening to the noise produced by horse’s hooves, a sound which is described as “steelyringing.” I think it’s important that perhaps the most musical chapter of the novel begins with this sentence, as the word “ringing” has certain sonic connotations indicating continuous reverberation of frequencies, frequencies which I think it could be safe to say continue throughout the chapter.

Having isolated this sentence, I began to divide the syllables up in a manner which would allow me to assign a rhythmic note to each one and assemble them in a 4/4 phrasing. This result was this:
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The idea of basing music off of a piece of text is not an original one, and for my project I specifically had in mind the work of one of my former teachers, John Niekrasz, a member of the Portland duo called Why I Must Be Careful, whose music is all based off of text composed prior to its being translated into performed music. In a sense, if Joyce is attempting to translate music and musical structure into the written word, I suppose what I’ve attempted to do is translate that language back into music.

Nadya Zimmerman provides a useful way of thinking about how the fugue might be working in the “Sirens” episode of Ulysses. Writing about the way in which Joyce is employing the fugal form as means of structuring narrative form, she argues, “musical form in ‘Sirens’ becomes the narrator, while words set that narrative into motion” (109). Thus the narrative is unfolding temporally according to a musical, rather than strictly literary structure, which allows Joyce to play with simultaneity in voices and time. In other words, the chapter contains different moments happening at different times in the linear way we read the text, yet it also produces simultaneity in depicting events which are happening at the same time as each other. This simultaneity is related to the contrapuntal relationship between different voices or melodies in a fugue. Zimmerman illustrates this idea by writing, “as Bloom walks by the Moulang pipes, we can say that he is in counterpoint with the conversation between the sirens in the bar, because these two events are happening at the same time in the plot” (112). The form of the fugue then allows for Joyce to expand upon a typical, linear form and introduce several voices which are technically speaking at the same time. Zimmerman also relates the basic idea of the fugue — the development of a subject through counterpoint and polyphony — to the ways in which the self can be conceptualized. She writes, “if a self is always constructed amidst a cacophony of other voices, musical form — fugal, in particular — allows for a simultaneous reconciliation of various strands of self in the moment” (110).

The recording technique I used was simple: I set up various microphones around my drums and recorded them into my computer. I recorded two separate tracks, one which consist of only cymbals, snare drum and bass drum, the other which consists of three drums which are typically called “toms.” These drums are usually tuned to different pitches and have more of a reverberative quality than the bass drum or snare drum. The idea here was to have two distinct tracks, one which introduced the subject and one which at first mimicked it and subsequently helped develop it. However, it could also be said that each track contains in itself three or more different voices, the idea being an attempt to mirror the multitude of voices in the “Sirens” chapter. The result therefore, was indeed cacophony.
I decided to include a prelude before going into the fugue itself, simply because that seems to be something classical composers used to do when they composed these things. I have done no research into the formal reasons for including the prelude, so my apologies there. My prelude in particular had in mind the prelude to Bach’s “Fugue no. 2 in C minor." As you can hear, it’s quite fast (let us not forget Bach was indeed a shredder), and I think it serves as a nice, frantic introduction to the fugue which has a bit more space.

Zimmerman, Nadya. “Musical Form as Narrator: The Fugue of the Sirens in James Joyce’s Ulysses.” Journal of Modern Literature 26. 1 (2002): 108-18.