Thirty-Six Musicians Reimagine Poems of James Joyce

by Staff

James Joyce's 1907 collection of poems, Chamber Music, has been interpreted into song by thirty-six musicians—Peter Buck of R.E.M., Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, and songwriter Jessica Bailiff among them. In 2003, producer James Nichols began assembing artists who, according to UK label Fire Records, have been "influenced (however loosely) by Joyce's style" and asked them to create songs that retain the poems' language.

Each musician individually interpreted a section from the text, a long love poem broken into numbered stanzas. The resulting record, titled Chamber Music, is a mix of musical genres, including alternative rock, electronica, and folk.

The two-disc album was released in the United Kingdom on June 16, better known to Joyce aficionados as Bloomsday, the annual celebration of the author and his work, particularly Ulysses, which is set on that date. The record will be released in the United States on July 22.

This is not the first instance of Joyce's poetry collection being set to music: In 1969, after leaving Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett wrote his song "Golden Hair" using the fifth section of Chamber Music. Between 1935 and 1937, composer Samuel Barber wrote a score for six stanzas of the book. Numerous other songwriters and composers, among them John Cage and Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen Albert, have been inspired by and collaborated with Joyce's words.