Fire Rec.V.A. : Chamber Music -James Joyce (1907).1-36 -2CD- (UK,rec.2003-2007,pub.2008)**°° Because myself, I once made a sort of translation (see here) of James Joyce’s “Chamber Music” (a conceptual series of poems), -and all of his other poems- I must say that now I know more or less its content, and feel what is it’s direct relationship with music. The translations were regarded by a Belgian James Joyce expert and literature professor as “interesting variations in the sense of Joyce”, -which was a compliment-, “but no perfect translations”. I had tried to find words in Dutch that acted similarly in our language to create similar senses and a series of associations (in sound as well as in meaning, and sometimes for his later poems for his doubling playing with words) while keeping the essence of the content of the expression intact. James Joyce, according to literature experts is not regarded as a high standard poet (-probably I won’t be one either, although my poems deal with an understanding of certain multi-layered patterns of inspirations, and with the sense for deeper transcending significations through Words that become tools to provoke this, something which almost interested me more than certain predestined formats and rules, or sadly enough, for my own works, also more than the importance of people’s abilities to understand texts with a clarity in form and sentence, I preferred to play with what words provoked as hanging together images of different levels of understandings, more than the syntax game that would make it’s purpose clear in normal logical grammar compared to daily logic and oral talking). James Joyce’s poetry works the same way as Heinrich Heine’s poems work (who wasn’t regarded by experts as a great writer either, but his clear romantic visions were however highly suitable to put into music, something which Schubert did). Joyce’s poems are comparable to Heine in that way that they are highly Romantic, with double meanings to situations related in a natural environment like a metaphor, like a frozen or evolving symbol of an image to remember which works to transcend this moment in time, with its own evolution, to settle down in someone’s life and it's relationship’s significances. One of these elements that transcends in time was music. It is one of its layers. Each poem describing a situation is like an aspect of music, a song. Interpreters that don’t understand or feel that aspect didn’t understand these poems, and should not bother putting his poems into music : it doesn’t work. The music must have something romantic, acoustic preferably, with the touch(ing) of (a) string(s), like they do with the string of a heart. Syd Barrett did a great version of “Golden Hair”, and so did Dr.Strangely Strange with “Strings In The Earth And Air”. By the way, James Joyce himself must have been a musician, played piano and he had a good tenor voice just like his father, a professional singer, so a relationship with also a song cycle or eventually a chamber music piece is almost too obvious to neglect. His wish that it would one day be turned into music was made open, in time, and was ambitiously taken as a commision by the label for which they contacted sevral artists. The most successful artists were not always the best interpreters, as if their confidence didn't deal enough with the deeper aspects of the poems, but when I consider what has been brought together in this double CD lot's of nice contributions, and a few rather good ideas came out of it.
I really had to listen very carefully who took out successful elements, because the task for a new musician isn't an obvious one, because even in alternative circles most musicians are too busy with their own patterns of songwriting or making music in a certain style, that the original message easily got lost in their own interpretation. Spoken word with background music to some degree I think would hardly work to get the picture of the 'chamber music' idea (a few people did this). I prefer mostly the few acidfolk related contributions, just because I happen to like that style (like Jessica Bailiff). Many songwriters seem to have made rather honest, independently living songs. Just a few went for a darker sound, not all so unsuccessful in doing so (like War Against Sleep, Ed Hacourt), an atmosphere which I think will make it difficult to capture the poem better. In the most pop/rock tracks the concept fails a bit. What I found a lazy thing to do is to make a direct cover version of Syd Barrett in an indie post-psych hazy style (by Venture), although it is very much possible he didn’t make this version especially for the compilation. Green Pajamas is the only band who uses an Irish flavour in their song (accordion, distorted guitar,..). Another favourites is Ian Kearey who takes care of a good arrangement with guitar, mandolin pickings and sad voice, creating an atmosphere open for a need to express a poem. Also Gravenhurst song sounds nice, and also Christian Kiefer’s contribution is tasteful....
There does not seem to be too much cooperation between the artists for making this album possible, but most tracks are fine to listen to, especially outside the concept. When taking out the most successful tracks it is easier to concentrate on the lyrics with a deeper sense. Some of its original source got also lost in the compilation idea of a tribute because there are no lyrics included (most probably this was not allowed), but also there's no information at all except the contributing names.
Favourites on CD1 are "IV" (=poem IV) (Jessica Bailiff), for she plays nicely my favourite style : psychfolk (as I mentioned before) ; VI (Virgin Passages), for the same reasons : here's a beautiful dreamy acoustic atmosphere : a song with ethereal backing vocal arrangements ; VIII (Califone) : this simple moody song is also rather enjoyable, like X (Owen Tromans): fingerpicking guitar and voice ; XIII (Mary Lorson -from former Madder Rose-), with another tastful folkpop song arranged with far away guitars, electric piano, drone ; XIV (Willy Mason) a matured voice song with calmy strummed nylon guitar ; XVI (Ian Kearey) with my favourite arrangement of the album, of delicate pickings, -finally with a bit a sort of chamber-like feeling, even when it's only guitar and mandolin, and sung with a rather deep soft voice, an attractive song as well. One of the most succesful moments.*
Favourites on CD2 are 2,-XX- (Lori Scacco) : more an instrumental than a song with some folktronic sound collage mixes, and electric piano with acoustic guitar, with a whispery female voice, 3,-XXI- (Great Depression) rather minimal piano, deep sounds, is a sort of moody ambient pop with use of several voices too, 6,-XXIV - (Flying Saucer Attack) : this song with guitar pickings comes at least over well with its lyrics ; 8-XXVI- (Gerry Mitchell & Little Sparta) this is a spoken word track which I think works well, with guitar chords strums and string arrangement, sparse drums. The chamber-association here has something of a folky landscape, not really like Dublin's intellectual aristocracy, but I think it captures something also much more "real" compared to some others ; this fades into 9 -XXVII- (Bardo Pond) : also ambient background sounds with half sung half spoken voice : has something desolate and haunting ; 10 -XXVIII- (Sphyr) : nice guitar idea, but I wish the spoken word had made it into a song. It already shows its rhythm into the guitar interpretation. I still wish for a next version/level ; 13 -XXXI- (Green Pajamas) : This band makes covering Joyce into a song sound easy. It's the only more "rocking" track (with a slight folk flavour however) which I think in this case, as a result, also this sounds like an acceptable form of interpretation ; 14 - XXXII- (Gravenhurst) : Also a beautiful song. Also they bring the song into an imaginable world of a folkpop song context. It has a nice instrumental ending ; 15 -XXXIII- (Christian Kiefer) : This is on the same level as the two previous examples : an acoustic clear-written song (acoustic and amplified guitar, accordion, percussion, soft harmony driven vocals) ; 16 -XXXIV- (Duke Garwood) : nice footstomping post-Moondog rhythms, bowed string and pots in the background ; the song is taken strangely to a mumbling stoned blues ritual semi-shamanistic context. -Like a meditation with the lyrics before him, as if trying to recall the lost ghosts behind it. Goofy.- ;18 -XXXVI- (Kinski) is spoken word as well, but with spooky oscillating percussion and guitar, deep bass and electronic radio wave sounds ;recall a sadness, -fits actually with the poem.
Also listed but this time NOT chosen for radio interest are on CD1 : Monica Queen, War Against Sleep, Ed Harcourt, Venture Lift, HTRK, Mike Watt, Airport Studies, Text of Light, Noah John, David Hurn & Abigail Hopkins. (Rather ok and lullaby-esque in style, so perhaps a not too strong expression as fitting with the poem cycle's intention is the track by Coldharbourstores, a song with harmonium, percussion, sounds, subtly distorted voice ; or even if I would leave it out my personal choice, I still wanted to mention it.
Also not successful enough for me, -for various reasons-, to be selected were on CD2 : Minus 5, Puerto Muerto, Mercury Rev, Sweet Trip, Mountain Men Anonymous, Tenebrous Liar, and Lovetones.
More info on 'Chamber Music' and music (and much moreon these pages :