This Saturday, (March 2nd - details below), I'll be premiering a new piece based on the writing of James Joyce. In doing it I'm very fortunate to have three of France's finest jazz musicians - Dominique Pifarely (violin), Stéphane Payen (alto), and Christophe Lavergne (drums), and the great Irish saxophonist Michael Buckley, playing with me. The mix of irish and French musicians isn't accidental, since the piece is called 'Counterparts - Joyce in Paris and Dublin', and is based around work he did when living in those two cities.
Music was very important to Joyce and his works are filled with descriptions of music, songs and singers. He himself was reputedly a fine singer, and he even competed in the Feis Ceol, (a venerable Irish amateur music competition, which is over a hundred years old and still going), entering the competition as a tenor. Joyce’s language is also very musical both in terms of rhythm and alliteration. The cities of Dublin and Paris are similarly very important to Joyce’s work – born and raised in Dublin but spending over twenty years of his adult life in Paris, both cities played crucial roles in his life and work.
The first impetus for writing the piece was my rereading of ‘Dubliners’, and being made aware again of Joyce’s musicality. The idea of Dublin and Paris came from my passing ‘Shakespeare and Company’ - the famous Parisian bookshop which had such an association with Joyce – on a recent trip to Paris. Since I’ve also had a close association with several French musicians in recent years, it was a short jump from the reading of Dubliners and thinking about Joyce’s life in the artistic hotbed that was Paris of the 1920s, to coming up with the idea of writing a piece for French and Irish musicians, based on writing undertaken by Joyce in both cities.
We also rehearsed the music in Paris and in Ireland - before Christmas Michael and I went to Paris and rehearsed with Dominique, Stéphane and Christophe, and now we're at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, a beautiful artist's retreat here in Ireland, working on the piece and putting the finishing touches to the shape of it.
‘Counterparts’ is partly written and partly improvised, and uses audio taken from street sounds recorded in markets in Dublin and Paris - it's always fun and a different kind of challenge to work with audio. The piece also uses text from various works both as a generator for the music, and in spoken word format as an integral part of the piece. Sometimes I’ve used direct material from the music in Joyce’s work, including ‘Say Goodbye To Girlish Days’, Joyce’s only known musical composition. In other parts of the piece I’ve used ideas from the works he wrote in Paris or in Dublin as generators of musical ideas.
In Counterparts I’ve tried to create a unique environment for improvising musicians to explore the work of Joyce through musical means, and through that to reveal to the listener the sheer musicality of Joyce’s prose.
For anyone in Dublin this Saturday March 2nd is interested in seeing the finished result of this work, you can come to the National Concert Hall at 1.05pm where the piece will be premiered as part of the New Music Dublin festival. Full details here
And here is a video clip of some of the rehearsals from Paris last year.