Archive | Introductions

Ukemi Audiobooks July 2020

Ukemi Audiobooks July 2020

A year ago or so, a number of correspondents wrote to me suggesting Summa Theologica, the momentous 13th century survey of Catholic theology by Thomas Aquinas, which, down the ensuing years, became a cornerstone of Western philosophy as well. I blinked. After all, it is huge – 2 million words which, in audiospeak, amounts to over 200 hours.

BUT – it is such an important work. I had closer look. It is divided neatly into four major parts (Part 1, Part 1 of Part 2, Part 2 of 2 and Part 3). That breaks down into fairly manageable volumes. And it would clearly grace the Ukemi catalogue! I was also fascinated to see how whether the final volume would attract loyal listeners. So, we set to work!

Aquinas set out to look at and comment on the theological teachings of the Catholic Church as he knew it. It had accrued a massive literature through the centuries – not just the Old and New Testaments, but the voluminous writings of Augustine of Hippo, Boethius, Dionysius the Areopagite, Anselm of Canterbury, and many more Christian writers. He extended his purview to Hebrew thinkers, including Maimonides, the 12th century Jewish philosopher. Most boldly and controversially, he drew on other traditions – crucially the philosophy of Ancient Greece and Rome (he calls Aristotle ‘The Philosopher’), as well as Plato and Cicero; and Arab writers and translators including Avicenna, Averroes and Al-Ghazali.

Furthermore, he developed a simple framework which he applied consistently throughout the work:

  • A question is proposed;
  • This is then considered under a variety of headings called Articles;
  • Objections are raised;
  • Aquinas then replies to those objections.

Throughout he refers to many authorities but makes his stance and view very clear.

Wide-ranging throughout, each Part does have a general emphasis: Part 1 emphasises theology, Part 2 emphasises ethics, Part 3 Christ.

Summa Theologica is, of course a major undertaking for a reader…and Martyn Swain – English born but resident in Cape Town – has risen to the challenge. A veteran simultaneous translator (French and German) for many international organisations, (he translated for Nelson Mandela during interviews for French radio), Swain has proved a natural audiobook reader with many recordings for Ukemi Audiobooks.

There is also the remarkable coincidence in the siting of this recording in Swain’s private studio in Cape Town. Father Laurence Shapcote of the Dominican order (Aquinas was a Dominican) who undertook the translation of the complete work in the first half of the 20th century, was born in South Africa (the son of a missionary) and lived there for much of his lifeHe translated this immense work on his own in Boksburg, Newcastle and Stellenbossch, undaunted by the immense learning involved in the project. A modest man, he requested that this translation was attributed to ‘the Fathers of the English Dominican Province.

Summa Theological Volume 2 (Prima Secundae) is scheduled for release in August.

Two other new titles have been released this month. Though best known for his ‘Parallel Lives’ Plutarch’s Moralia, his collection of essays, have always been enjoyed for their variety, their quiet wisdom and their wit. Now, Matthew Lloyd Davies presents, with his inimitable informal tone, a second volume, with essays ranging from ‘Were Athenians  more famous in War or in Wisdom’ to ‘Sayings of Kings and Commanders’ and ‘Bravery of Women.’

And Michael Lunts, after Nietzsche and Adam Smith, turns to 20th century philosophy, to read Time and Free Will by Henri Bergson, who takes a very different view from the existential stance of Heidegger. In effect Bergson asserts that free will is a fact. For Bergson intuition is experience in action and entering into the thing or state, empathy, is the way to absolute, rather than relative knowledge.

The Ukemi recording made by Mike Rogers, of William Langland’s sparking medieval poem Piers Plowman in the modern verse rendering by Charles Arthur Burrell has been very favourable reviewed in The Times by Christina Hardyment. Click here for the review.

Nicolas Soames

23 July 2020

Ukemi Audiobooks May 2020

Ukemi Audiobooks May 2020

The world premiere audiobook recording of Thomas Mann’s masterpiece, The Magic Mountain.

David Rintoul

Ever since the release of Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks read for Ukemi Audiobooks by David Rintoul and released in October 2016 I have received a steady stream of emails and exhortations for Mann’s unquestionable masterpiece, The Magic Mountain. It is the story of a sanatorium in the Alps for sufferers of tuberculosis ­– the Covid-19 of its day. And therefore there can scarcely be a more apposite time to present this world premiere unabridged recording in a master-reading by the aforesaid David Rintoul. It is now available on Audible.

However, TB and the sanatorium in Davos (!!) is only the backdrop to the book. It is essentially, a bildungsroman, a story about the maturation of a young man over a period of years. Hans Castorp, in his early twenties, goes to visit a friend in the sanatorium for a few weeks, but his residency extends far further than that. He arrives a naïve, would-be shipbuilder, but his encounters with the various long-term and short-term patients, residents and medical staff, and his immersion in the sanatorium’s regular routine, affect and influence him in unexpected ways. His view of life (and death) broadens.

Mann started writing The Magic Mountain shortly before WW1, but didn’t finish it until 1924…and it propelled his career to the inevitable Nobel Prize in 1929.

David and I wanted to go into the recording studio very soon after Buddenbrooks to follow it up with The Magic Mountain but issues with audio rights and copyright required patience. Finally, with the support of the publishers Knopf in the US, the audio rights to the latest and much-admired translation by John E. Woods were agreed and signed at the start of this year.

Of course, David is a busy actor and audiobook reader, and couldn’t go straight into the studio…not least because he wanted time to study and prepare. The Magic Mountain is one of the greatest works of 20th century literature, along with Ulysses and Proust, and was not a book to sight-read. It is complex, multi-layered and subtle. David had scheduled a holiday in Sri Lanka in February after an intensive period of work. He said it would give him the perfect opportunity to prepare, concentrating soley on the book. He would prepare on the beach, by the pool, in the balmy evenings…which is exactly what he did. But first, he wanted to deal with all the pronunciations – names and places and whatnot in various European languages. When he returned, he showed me him prep pages…there were 887 lines, dealing not only with the languages, but technical words, notes on characters and situations and so on…Diligent is not the word for it.

So, one Monday early in March, we went for the first day to the Camden studios of the Royal National Institute for the Blind in London…top-class studios used by many commercial audiobook labels, as well as for the charity itself. We did the first day…and then Covid-19 descended like a thunderbolt. It was quite clear, with me taking daily trains and tubes from Hertfordshire, and David on public transport from Chelsea, that unless we were VERY lucky, we could end up in a medical establishment. But not in the Alps. And, er, sorry to reveal this David, but we both know all about three score years and ten – though David is extremely fit.

So, with great regret, I postponed…and then came up with another solution. ID Audio, a group of audiobook studios where we have both worked in the past, is in a gated office complex in West London. I lived in somewhat isolated circumstances in Herts. I could drive. David could drive. The studios were closed, but they kindly agreed to let us go in on the weekends, when no-one else was around – and the two of us could be separated – for most of the time – by the studio glass.

Thomas Mann

And so the recording of Mann’s masterpiece progressed. We extended the weekend by a day here, and a day there. We became increasingly engrossed in the enclosed community in Davos a century ago. Did the air and atmosphere in ID Audio feel alpine? The tumultuous intellectual battles of Lodovico Settembrini and Leo Naphta as they sought to influence the young Castorp – politically, ethically, artistically and even spiritually – spun their webs around us. The seductive allure of Clavdia Chauchat was evident. What a novel!

Outside, the world seemed in turmoil with coronavirus. We could not record this at home – we had to go to the studio – and the book itself demanded to be finished. March went into April and we lived in a kind of hermetic bubble (hoping anyway!!!!). People died of tuberculosis. Disappointment, tragedy, humour, love and seduction…We watched (or rather David recorded) the changes to Hans Castorp as the years passed.

The studio remained largely empty, so we had the space and time and quiet to try and do justice to the book. And then it was finished. It was a wrap! Onwards to a fine restaurant to celebrate? NO! not possible! We bowed, or did we clink elbows. Can’t remember. Then we went our solitary ways…

The editing and proofing process followed down in Bristol, handled by the immensely experienced Ken Barton and his proofer Tess. In a way Tess was our first audience – and her response was unequivocal.

An amazing, powerful, multi-layered novel – so many huge themes, but also engaging and hilarious, with fantastic characters. I was with David Rintoul for every second of the journey – he brings out every nuance of the text…one of the greatest books of early twentieth century…

As soon as it went live on Audible, I emailed many of the correspondents who had asked for it, from all over the world…and quite a few came back by return of mail, all welcoming it, saying how much they hoped it would come one day.

So that is the Ukemi story of The Magic Mountain. Ukemi is now in its fifth year, and has approaching 130 recordings…with another 26 on Dharma Audiobooks, its sister label dedicated to Buddhist audiobooks. On Ukemi, The Magic Mountain was preceded by Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship  read by the accomplished Leighton Pugh – It is arguably the first bildungsroman, so it was appropriate it should be followed by Mann’s masterpiece.

And I see that another massive Ukemi project, the first part of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica has just gone on sale on Audible…

But more of that anon.

Nicolas Soames

17 May 2020

Ukemi Audiobooks May 2020

Ukemi Audiobooks May 2020

May is becoming quite a bumper month for Ukemi Audiobooks, with a plethora of very different releases with one thing in common: each title is on this list as a direct response to requests from regular Ukemi listeners. Just to be clear, of course, the Ukemi publishing list is not the audiobook version of Listeners Requests! However, I am very pleased to say that I receive, very regularly, emails asking for such and such a classic; or ‘Have you ever thought of recording XYZ?’ Or – ‘There is only a terrible version of A-B-C: I tried it and couldn’t go on after 20 mins…but there really should be a good recording of this great work.’

And always, I am fascinated – by the sheer variety of interest out there, by the elevated nature of your requests: Fiction, non-fiction, obscure, ancient and from all corners of the world. I find it stimulating, so keep the ideas coming!

Now, a little revelation. You will have noticed that there is a central corps of Ukemi readers, names and voices that appear again and again because I know I can give them the toughest concepts of existentialism, the texts containing names and places from 25 or 30 different countries, the scripts with totally outlandish syntax or in-depth economics or mathematical formulae. I know they settle down with pen and paper (actually, no, with their iPad) and research, unpick, delve and build – and out comes a performance that enables us to understand, sometime for the first time, the challenges of that particular classic.

BUT virtually every one of these readers (when recovering after some impossible and impossibly long script has been overcome) has come to me at some point and quietly (if that is possible on an email or in a studio) asked for an Agatha Christie, or some sub-genre SAS or Jack Reacherish thriller. SHORT SENTENCES! NO LONG WORDS. Characters that grunt. ‘The AK7 shot out of his hands, rolled down the cliff and he was left facing the gargantuan snarling gorilla – with just his bare hands.’

I’m sorry, I have to say every time. ‘It’s not what we do.’ And I really mean it.

‘Why not??’ they ask despairingly.

I know I can’t hold out forever. One day I may have to launch a sub-label featuring pulp fiction of the lowest kind – Trigger MortisLady, That’s My SkullThe Case of the Dancing Sandwiches – so that I can later entice them back to the Ukemi fold with more Heidegger, or Spinoza, or Montesquieu.

HOWEVER, the in the meantime…in May 2020, Ukemi continues as normal.

Sagar Arya continues his survey of the major Indian Sanskrit classics with The Rig Veda. This was a challenge from the start. The late 19th century translation by T H Griffith remains the only acceptable verse version, but like so many of his time he felt he should honour the antiquity of the original by using antiquated English. An uphill business for most  21st century listeners (though apologies to supportive Morris, my inveterate correspondent in the West country, who, with friends, gather together once a month to read Sanskrit texts in the original, and enjoys original Griffith!)  The Ukemi team revised the innumerable ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ and words which needed an 1890s dictionary; and with additional help from Sanskritist Anwesha Arya in translating those (risqué) sections omitted by Griffith, gave Sagar Arya a text to read which, we hope, will prove more accessible for 21st century listeners.

Something similar was done with Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, the founding work of the bildungsroman genre. Though with extra respect. For the translator was none other than Thomas Carlyle, the distinguished historian and essayist. He admired Goethe and Wilhelm Meister hugely, and that is reflected in this translation. It just needed small adjustments here and there – for example reverting the Anglicised Mariana to the original Mariane: small but important differences especially when read by German scholar Leighton Pugh.

After the release of Heidegger’s Being and Time, it was clear that we should go to one of Heidegger’s initial inspirations – Ideas, by the founder of phenomology, Edmund Husserl. Leighton Pugh again takes on the challenge of presenting it clearly; and we all benefit, certainly, from the Introduction by Taylor Carman, who performed the same service on Being and Time. Both were commissioned by Ukemi Audiobooks.

These three titles are available on Audible as I write. However, there are more in the pipeline. Epicurus of Samos, His Philosophy and Life contains not only all the principal source texts (from Diogenes Laertius etc) but very pertinent and stimulating introductions to the man himself, his views, effect on succeeding centuries, including his influence on  Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things). The final chapter, The Legacy is fascinating – incorporating comments from Cicero to Thomas Jefferson who declared, ‘I am an Epicurean’! By the way, this title is an Ukemi commission…I noted that while Plato, the Stoics and so on were well-served on audio, there was very little on Epicurus…Hiram Crespo, founder of the Society of Epicurus, who compiled the representative texts and introduced, is a persuasive guide.

And now for something completely different. Rosa Luxemburg, the Polish/Russian post Marxist economist was a strong and original voice in her field. She was murdered by right-wing thugs when at the height of her powers, and her bold survey of economics, The Accumulation of Capital, written in 1913, remains a testing document. It is confidently read by Louise Barrett.

AND – there is more…Thomas Mann fans, watch this space….

Nicolas Soames 5 May 2020

Ukemi Audiobooks March 2020

Ukemi Audiobooks March 2020

The world premiere recording of Virginia Woolf’s Between The Acts on Ukemi Audiobooks

It came as quite a surprise, when preparing Virginia Woolf’s two collections of essays – The Common Reader Volume 1 (out already) and Volume 2 (coming in May) – that her last novel, Between The Acts, had never been recorded. What! The final work of one of England’s greatest literary figures! Yes – so it seemed. To be honest ­– though I have recorded most of her works, not only had I not read it, I didn’t even know about it.

Well, it turns out to be quite a gem – rich and vintage Woolf in some parts, actually very funny in others, and, er, rather odd also. She finished it in 1941, sent it off to her publishers, Hogarth, and then had second thoughts and sent a note asking for a delay on publication so that she could revise it. But shortly afterwards, she took her own life.

The lively and responsive Georgina Sutton, a familiar voice on Ukemi Audiobooks, came into the studio and we were not quite sure how it would turn out. But now we can say without hesitation – don’t hesitate. The story concerns an amateur dramatic performance in the gardens of an English country house in 1939, during the ‘phoney war’. The local village, with all its varied characters, turn out for their annual thespian event hosted by the presiding Oliver family. Visitors from London appear to add a bit of social spice. Woolf’s eyes ranges over the interplay between drama and reality, between social classes, between needs and desires of individuals; and then there is the play itself: three separate scenes dipping into the age of Shakespeare, the Restoration (a romp!) and the Victorian times. I can assure you, this is a real find, with some vintage Woolf gems.

There can be no greater contrast in English literature than Robert Burton’s 17th century marvel, The Anatomy of Melancholy (which Woolf knew well, lamentably). In his huge (56 + hours) survey of melancholia in all its forms, the immensely learned Burton drew on the classics, on science, on contemporary drama to explore every angle of the state of mind that afflicts so many. Human beings in the 21st century are no different. All the numerous Latin, Greek etc quotations he peppers his text with are translated. Peter Wickham has done a stupendous job in bringing this on to audio.

Copyright issues prevent the release of two important early texts by Carl Gustav Jung in the UK and Commonwealth (the standard publishing territorial division). But Modern Man in Search of a Soul and Collected Papers on Analytical Psychology are available on audible in the US and Canada…read so clearly by Martyn Swain.

Nicolas Soames

March 2019

Welcome to Ukemi Audiobooks 2020

Welcome to Ukemi Audiobooks 2020

We have started with three very different titles which, by happenstance, rather reflects the Ukemi character: one 20th century philosophical classic, one great but often neglected 19th Russian novel, and perhaps the first anthropological study ever published.

There are few more challenging texts than Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time – one of the pillars of existentialism. However, listeners are given a helping hand with a very clear introduction to the work by one of the leading Heidegger experts. Professor Taylor Carman of Barnard College, Columbia University explains in his concise opening remarks how Heidegger sits in between Kierkegaard and Sartre; and proceeds to present an overview and guide to the clear, steady recording by the indefatigable Martyn Swain.

Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov may exist slightly in the shadows of the big Tolstoys and Dostoyevskys, but for those coming to it for the first time I can assure you it will be an endearing discovery. Oblomov is most comfortable living a life of ease – in his bed even – made possible by the luxury of living off the fruits of his family estate. But is such a life really beneficial? His friends demur.

The Golden Bough, Sir James George Frazer’s enormous 19th century study in magic and religion was the first work to look in observational, non-judgemental mode at habits of societies, ancient and existing, from across the globe. Originally published in in 1890, and regularly revised in succeeding years, It opened the way to the scientific study of anthropology. It covered many volumes, containing a vast amount of knowledge. In 1922, Frazer made his own reduction, covering most of the major points – though at 44 hours it is still not a quick survey!!!

Finally (on its way as I write – due to be released on Audible on 10 February) is The Common Reader Volume 1 by Virginia Woolf. Her great novels – To the LighthouseMrs Dalloway and others – can obscure the fact that she was a fascinating essayist, with acute observations to make on literature and other topics. Volume 1 contains 26 essays varying from her remarks on Chaucer, Jane Eyre, the modern novel and Elizabethan drama to Montaigne and the Greek classics.

Nicolas Soames

January 2020

AS 2019 COMES TO A CLOSE

AS 2019 COMES TO A CLOSE

As 2019 ends six new titles appear on the Ukemi website…and again, what a rich range! Freud’s ‘Autobiographical Study’ sits with the Jacobean essays of Sir Francis Bacon – ‘Counsels, Civil and Moral’; and the great ancient Indian epic ‘The Rāmāyana’ is there, with Friedrich Engels’ remarkable (for a 24 year old) account of ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844’, which virtually served as his calling card when he met Karl Marx in Paris shortly after its publication. The breadth of human enterprise and human learning never fails to stimulate me, frankly, as I cast my eye over what to record next. Continue Reading →

AND YET ANOTHER FOUR!!!

AND YET ANOTHER FOUR!!!

The Lay of the Nibelungs

It is challenging to define Ukemi recordings – even for me, and I choose them. There is the overarching terminology of ‘Classics, non-fiction and fiction’ but as these four new releases show, the spread is so wide as to be almost unhelpful! So, I will take them one by one, and hope that you are intrigued and even delighted with them – as I have been over the past three or four months of the preparation and recording behind the scenes. Continue Reading →