Time: 8pm GMT, Saturday 5th December 2020 Place: Cambridge 105 Radio
Another trip back into the past with audio archivist James Errington, this time joined by folk musician Mark Bilyeu from Springfield, Missouri to delve into the music of 1922, the year of the first country music recordings, stride piano from Fats Waller and James P Johnson, and the notorious million-selling Okeh laughing record.
You can listen to the show on 105fm in Cambridge, on DAB digital, on the Cambridge 105 website here, or on any good radio apps.
…or as it’s already too late to do any of these things, you can simply “listen again” to this extended mix at your leisure.
It’s been a quiet couple of weeks of mainly doing stuff in the garden, and I’ve taken the opportunity to finally tackle James Joyce’s second-most-daunting book, Ulysses. I’ve owned a copy for roughly half of my life now, and hadn’t even opened it, not exactly through feeling intimidated, more that it seemed like a huge project and there was a concern that I would find it disappointing.
If you don’t know about Ulysses, and am expecting me to give some sort of digested summary, then I’m afraid that’s probably beyond me. Here instead is the opening from Wikipedia
Ulysses is a modernist novel by Irish writer James Joyce. It was first serialised in parts in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920 and then published in its entirety in Paris by Sylvia Beach on 2 February 1922, Joyce’s 40th birthday. It is considered one of the most important works of modernist literature and has been called “a demonstration and summation of the entire movement.” According to Declan Kiberd, “Before Joyce, no writer of fiction had so foregrounded the process of thinking”.
Ulysses chronicles the peripatetic appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin in the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904. Ulysses is the Latinised name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey, and the novel establishes a series of parallels between the poem and the novel, with structural correspondences between the characters and experiences of Leopold Bloom and Odysseus, Molly Bloom and Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus and Telemachus, in addition to events and themes of the early 20th-century context of modernism, Dublin, and Ireland’s relationship to Britain. The novel is highly allusive and also imitates the styles of different periods of English literature.
Since its publication, the book has attracted controversy and scrutiny, ranging from an obscenity trial in the United States in 1921, to protracted textual “Joyce Wars”. The novel’s stream-of-consciousness technique, careful structuring, and experimental prose—replete with puns, parodies, and allusions—as well as its rich characterisation and broad humour, have led it to be regarded as one of the greatest literary works in history; Joyce fans worldwide now celebrate 16 June as Bloomsday.
Or, as Stephen King put it the other day.
Well, I finally got around to ULYSSES, the James Joyce joint. I understand it better than I expected, but I have to say it’s really fucking Irish.
Here I should say that I cheated, sort of. The book was given a full dramatised reading from RTÉ Radio on Bloomsday 1982, and happily the whole thing is now available for download from archive.org here
It’s an excellent dramatisation, and much like the book itself it’s the kind of quality of work which you struggle to believe was actually put together by real humans with a limited amount of time in their day, and in their life.
And that’s my main takeaway from the book. Each of the 18 “episodes” contained within is an work on its own, each with what seems like an entirely different style, worth digging deeply into, if only there were time! It would be an ideal book to take to a desert island, less ideal to write a thesis about, and a brief blog post seems like an impossibility. So here instead are a few of my favourite episodes.
Episode 14, Oxen of the Sun
“the episode starts with latinate prose, Anglo-Saxon alliteration, and moves on through parodies of, among others, Malory, the King James Bible, Bunyan, Pepys, Defoe, Sterne, Walpole, Gibbon, Dickens, and Carlyle, before concluding in a haze of nearly incomprehensible slang. The development of the English language in the episode is believed to be aligned with the nine-month gestation period of the foetus in the womb” – the alliterative passages in this chapter are a complete joy to listen to and make me think I may actually give Finnegan’s Wake a go one day. The audio version, I am not a complete lunatic.
Episode 15, Circe
“written as a play script, complete with stage directions. The plot is frequently interrupted by “hallucinations” experienced by Stephen and Bloom—fantastic manifestations of the fears and passions of the two characters” – this has a dream logic to it, shifting in and out of the concrete world in spectacular fashion. For a chapter in which most of the action takes place in a brothel, it is also surprisingly lacking in anything off-putting.
Episode 18, Penelope
“The final episode consists of Molly Bloom’s thoughts as she lies in bed next to her husband. The episode uses a stream-of-consciousness technique in eight paragraphs and lacks punctuation. Molly thinks about Boylan and Bloom, her past admirers, including Lieutenant Stanley G. Gardner, the events of the day, her childhood in Gibraltar, and her curtailed singing career.” Despite (due to?) this being a stream-of-consciousness it’s one of the most lucid and realistic of the episodes. Throughout the book, the female characters oddly enough seem to be better drawn and more lucid than the male characters, and this is the ultimate example of this.
The only part which was a real struggle to get through was episode 17, Ithaca, which is “written in the form of a rigidly organised and “mathematical” catechism of 309 questions and answers” and was apparently Joyce’s favourite. It felt like an accurate imitation of something I have no desire to read in the first place, though I have no doubt I would get something out of it given time.
To sum up, this was a good book and you should, uh, listen to it.
Centuries of Sound is a monthly mix of original recordings from a single year. If you want higher bitrate downloads, a bonus podcast with discussion of the recordings, extra bonus mixes and much more, please support me on Patreon for just $5 per month, and keep the project ad-free.
In a moment I will press the ‘publish’ button on this post, the RSS feed will be updated, the show will be updated on different podcast apps, and people all over the world will be able to hear this mix. It’s a bit glib to say we take all of this for granted, that’s what the progress of technology is all about, after all, but still, imagine someone in 1922 in the place you live – most of this music would be completely inaccessible to them. They might be rich enough to own a phonograph, but the chances they would have something like this collection of new sounds is astronomically small. If I’m making a soundtrack of what people are hearing around the world then this still isn’t really it.
But things are still changing at an increasing speed (aren’t they always?) For one, radio is finally taking off, a good 25 years after its initial “invention” (putting scare quotes around that because it’s such a minefield I don’t know where to even begin.) Strangely enough there were effectively audio broadcasts as far back as the 1890s, with music and speech transmitted down phone lines, but these never took off as a mass medium. The best claim to being the first real radio station is perhaps 2XG in New York, which was using a vacuum-tube transmitter to make news and entertainment broadcasts (gramophone records) on a regular schedule as early as 1915, and even broadcast the result of the 1916 presidential election. This was, naturally, over a small area of the city, probably picked up by a small number of hobbyists, and disappeared from the airwaves as the USA became involved in the First World War. By 1922, though, a wide range of stations had sprung up around the USA, the Marconi company opened 2MT and 2LO in London and CFCF in Montreal, and music stations were broadcasting in Paris and Buenos Aires. What tantilising recordings do we have from this? The answer is, apparently none whatsoever, not even the merest scrap, nothing substantial for another five years. Nobody thought to put a recording gramophone in front of a radio receiver. They did, however, record radio parodies on disc, and that’s something at least.
This is a music-based show, so I shouldn’t neglect developments in this area. The majority of this mix is concerned with a massive expansion of classical female blues, with a knock-on explosion of resurgent jazz, but we’ll have plenty of time to discuss this next time. More interesting perhaps are two simply transcendent recordings from Alexander Campbell “Eck” Robertson. Robertson was born in Arkansas, grew up in Texas, and began learning the fiddle from the age of five. He spent 18 years working as a jobbing musician at medicine shows, a piano tuner, an accompaniment for silent movies and at country fiddling contests. At a reunion of confederate soldiers in 1922 he met 74-year old fiddler Henry C. Gilliland, and the two of them decided to audition for the Victor Talking Machine Company. The resulting records made no great waves at the time, but in a historical context they are just astonishing, not simply country music five years before it supposedly started to be recorded, but such perfect sounds that they seem to be a door to an unknowable world of regional music prior to the invention of electrical recording.
This is also the “stride piano” mix – not such a wild departure as it represents the natural bridge from ragtime piano to jazz piano, but a music which thankfully has its pioneers reasonably-well represented. James P. Johnson and Fats Waller both appear here, on their own and accompanying the blues singers. If we want to take away one single picture from this year, it would again be these people playing somewhere in a smoky speakeasy. That wouldn’t be a fair representation, of course, but really, what is? Tracks
0:00:20 Joe Hayman – Cohen Listens in on the Radio
0:00:27 Frederic Lamond – Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 5 ‘Emperor’
0:02:10 Monroe Silver – Cohen on the Radio
0:02:23 Edith Wilson – Rules And Regulations ‘signed Razor Jim’
0:05:33 Joe Hayman – Cohen Buys a Wireless Set
0:05:39 Ladd’s Black Aces – Virginia Blues
0:08:30 Sophie Tucker – High Brown Blues
0:11:36 Prof. Charles H. Collins – Victor Records for Health Exercises
0:11:59 Frank Guarente’s Georgians – Chicago
0:14:35 Sara Martin & Fats Waller – T Ain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do
0:17:24 James P. Johnson – Carolina Shout
0:20:04 Eva Taylor – Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home
0:22:58 Fats Waller – Birmingham Blues
0:25:54 The Virginians – Blue
0:27:41 Johnny Dunn’s Original Jazz Hounds – Four O’Clock Blues
0:30:45 Mamie Smith – New Orleans
0:33:42 Ethel C. Olson – The Larson Kids Go Bathing (Excerpt 1)
0:33:59 Henry C. Gilliland And A. C. (Eck) Robertson – Arkansaw Traveler
0:36:53 Eck Robertson – Sally Gooden
0:39:57 Ethel C. Olson – The Larson Kids Go Bathing (Excerpt 2)
0:40:15 Rudy Wiedoeft – Saxema
0:41:44 New Orleans Rhythm Kings – Bugle Call Blues
0:44:03 Carl Fenton – Kitten On The Keys
0:46:24 Zez Confrey – Coaxing the Piano
0:49:03 Gilbert Girard – Santa Claus Tells of Mother Goose Land (Excerpt 1)
0:49:15 Original Memphis Five – Strutting At The Strutters Ball
0:52:13 Conchita Piquer – El Florero
0:55:13 La Argentinita – Una Vida De Mujer
0:55:30 Salgado do Carmo & Eugenio Cibelli – Fado popular
0:58:36 Agustín Barrios – Minueto
0:59:26 Robert Trucksess – Flow gently sweet afton & Bonnie, sweet Bessie
1:00:51 Gilbert Girard – Santa Claus Tells of Mother Goose Land (Excerpt 2)
1:01:08 Original Dixieland Jazz Band – Bow Wow Blues
1:04:21 Edith Wilson and Johnny Dunn’s Original Jazz Hounds – Old Time Blues
1:06:07 Alberta Hunter – Down Hearted Blues
1:09:07 Ethel Waters – ‘Frisco Jazz Band Blues
1:12:32 Ed Gallaher & Al Shean – Mr Gallagher And Mr Shean
1:14:53 Anna Hoffman and Jacob Jacobs – Chana Pesel furht in an Automobile (Excerpt 1)
1:15:15 Anton Günther – Wu de Wälder haamlich rauschen
1:16:52 Anna Hoffman and Jacob Jacobs – Chana Pesel furht in an Automobile (Excerpt 2)
1:17:15 W. C. Handy’s Memphis Blues Band – St. Louis Blues
1:18:41 Lucille Hegamin – He May Be Your Man But He Comes To See Me Sometimes
1:20:41 The Cotton Pickers – Hot Lips
1:23:04 The Original Memphis Five – Ji-Ji-Boo
1:25:01 Carl Fenton + Rudy Wiedoeft – Georgia
1:26:47 Ethel Waters’ Jazz Masters – Tiger Rag
1:29:53 Guy Maiere and Lee Pattison – Espana Rhapsody
1:32:40 The Original Sacred Harp Choir – The Christian Warfare 179
1:33:32 Shimizu Itoko – Yasugi Bushi
1:35:18 Marika Papagika – Olympos Ke Kisavos
1:37:57 Monroe Silver – Cohen Becomes a Citizen
1:38:00 Harry Kandel’s Orchestra – Kiever Bulgar
1:40:33 Semen Kirsanov Reads Velimir Khlebnikov – Not To Panel!
1:40:59 Naftule Brandwein – Kallarash
1:44:08 Georgel – La Garçonne
1:45:13 Maurice Chevalier – Pas Pour Moi
1:47:40 Okeh Laughing Record – Okeh Laughing Record
1:50:29 Amelita Galli-Curci – Rimsky-Korsakov- Sadko – Song Of India