What follows are instructions for composing songs derived from Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. This description is (c) 1993. A similar version previously appeared in The Abiko Quarterly.  If you or your organization are interested in performing these songs, contact us by replying to this page.

26 Songs from Finnegans Wake
First Construction

The basic construction of 26 songs is based on aspects of Finnegans Wake. Songs are generated in the following order.

1 song for 1 voice
4 songs for 2 voices
4 songs for 3 voices
8 songs for 4 voices
4 songs for 3 voices
4 songs for 2 voices
1 song for 1 voice

You must generate a table of random numbers of four decimal places. When constructing songs, begin with the first random number on your list, then proceed down the list without skipping a number.
The basic procedure for constructing songs follows:

Select voice
Select book
Select starting page in that book
Select starting line on that page
Select number of lines to be sung

These steps are followed in order for each voice in each song, with each step requiring one random number. The exceptions are the songs for one voice. These frame the cycle with the opening and closing lines of Finnegans Wake. They are constructed in the following manner:

Song 1 always begins at 3.1, that is, the first line of the first page of Book 1. To construct Song 1, therefore, you only need to select the voice (Step 1) and the number of lines to be sung (Step 5).

Song 26 always ends at 628.17, that is, the last line of the last page of Book IV. To construct Song 26, you select the voice (step 1) and the number of lines to be sung (step 5). Since you need to end at 628.17, you back up from this line to arrive at the starting point.

For the remaining songs, Voices and Books (steps 1 and 2) are selected based on the following chart. Numbers of four decimal places are rounded to two places:

Number            Voice          Book

0.75-0.99      Soprano         IV
0.50-0.74         Alto              III
0.25-0.49        Tenor             II
0.00-0.24        Bass                 I

The starting page of the Book (Step 3) is determined by rounding the random number to three digits. These three digits will direct you to the page of the Book where the starting line of the part will be selected. Note, these are not the same as text pagination. Book I, for example, contains 213 pages, and begins on text page 3 of the Viking edition. If the number generated exceeds 0.213, then loop back. Thus, 0.223 gives you page 10 of Book I, which equates to text page 13.

The starting line of the page selected (Step 4) is determined by rounding the random number to two digits. Begin counting at the top of the page. If the number generated exceeds the number of lines on the page, then loop back to line one. Footnotes count as lines.

Steps 3 and 4 together have give you the starting point. The first two digits of the next number generated give the number of lines to be sung by this voice (Step 5).

Vocal Ranges: Voice indications are general. The singer determines the relevant range.

Tempo: Each voice proceeds through the text as quickly or as slowly as desired.

Role of the Conductor: The conductor indicates when each song begins. The singers begin at any time on or after the conductor’s cue. The performers are permitted to start and stop as often as they like, but they must sing the complete text without alteration.
A table of songs constructed with these procedures can be found here.

Please leave a comment if you are interested in arranging a performance. Comments are read, but not published.