Waywords & Meansigns – David Kahne on Setting Finnegans Wake to Music

You may not know David Kahne’s name but you will almost certainly have heard his music. A Grammy-winning American record producer and composer, Kahne has worked with the likes of Paul McCartney, the Strokes and Stevie Nicks (to name but a few), but he is perhaps best known to Joyceans for his work on the score of the 2003 movie Bloom. This year, he has squeezed some time in between production duties with Paul McCartney and Ingrid Michaelson to return to his interest in Joyce – by helping set Finnegans Wake to music as part of the Waywords & Meansigns project!

For Kahne and the others involved in the project, Wayword & Meansigns is a labour of love. With readers and musicians from around the world, they are working on an unabridged musical adaptation of Joyce’s famously opaque novel. Kahne has been working with the second chapter of the book – you can hear a sample of his reading and original score here:



When asked to describe his process of working on the chapter for Waywords and Meansigns, Kahne explained that the effort has been both challenging and rewarding: “It’s like 3D chess. To say the chapter out loud, to read through and keep it going, starts to mess with my entire body. Looking at a string of words, seeing them and then getting my voice to say them — as the visual meaning of them often collides with the sound meanings — is dizzying most of the time.”

“Of course that’s what Joyce was doing, putting us into an almost pre-sleep state where words and meaning collide and we sit up straight in our beds gasping about that vast reality,” explained Kahne. “But to get through a whole chapter took me a total of a few days, and I had to keep taking long breaks after 20 or 30 lines. Mr. Joyce took me there, and I’m grateful for  — and a little shaken by — the journey into this sensory world of the almost non-conscious. It’s that same place that keeps our car on the road while we’re thinking about all of our problems.”  

This is the second time Waywords and Meansigns has set Finnegans Wake to music unabridged. The second edition, featuring a new cast of musicians and readers, will debut February 2016. All audio will be freely distributed via waywordsandmeansigns.com – keep an eye on our website, Facebook and Twitter for updates!

Guest blog by Derek Pyle, director of the Waywords & Meansigns project.