How Music Works is David Byrne’s remarkable and buoyant celebration of a subject he has spent a lifetime thinking about. In it he explores how profoundly music is shaped by its time and place, and he explains how the advent of recording technology in the twentieth century forever changed our relationship to playing, performing, and listening to music.
Acting as historian and anthropologist, raconteur and social scientist, he searches for patterns—and shows how those patterns have affected his own work over the years with Talking Heads and his many collaborators, from Brian Eno to Caetano Veloso. Byrne sees music as part of a larger, almost Darwinian pattern of adaptations and responses to its cultural and physical context. His range is panoptic, taking us from Wagnerian opera houses to African villages, from his earliest high school reel-to-reel recordings to his latest work in a home music studio (and all the big studios in between).
Touching on the joy, the physics, and even the business of making music, How Music Works is a brainy, irresistible adventure and an impassioned argument about music’s liberating, life-affirming power.
About David Byrne
David Byrne is a Scottish-born Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and cofounder of Talking Heads. He has been the recipient of many awards, including an Oscar and a Golden Globe. The author of Bicycle Diaries andThe New Sins, Byrne lives in New York City.
Drawing on a lifetime of music-making as an amateur, professional, performer, producer, band member and solo artist, Byrne (Bicycle Diaries, 2009) tackles the question implicit in his title from multiple angles: How does music work on the ear, brain and body? How do words relate to music in a song? How does live performance relate to recorded performance? What effect has technology had on music, and music on technology? Fans of the Talking Heads should find plenty to love about this book. Steering clear of the conflicts leading to the band’s breakup, Byrne walks through the history, album by album, to illustrate how his views about performance and recording changed with the onset of fame and (small) fortune. He devotes a chapter to the circumstances that made the gritty CBGB nightclub an ideal scene for adventurous artists like Patti Smith, the Ramones, Blondie and Tom Verlaine and Television. Always an intensely thoughtful experimenter, here he lets us in on the thinking behind the experiments. But this book is not just, or even primarily, a rock memoir. It’s also an exploration of the radical transformation—or surprising durability—of music from the beginning of the age of mechanical reproduction through the era of iTunes and MP3s. Byrne touches on all kinds of music from all ages and every part of the world. – Kirkus Reviews
A Talking Head Has Something to Say - ‘How Music Works,’ by David Byrne
The New York Times Book Review – September 12, 2012 (Excerpt)
The critic Clive James once began a review of a Leonid Brezhnev biography by observing that it was so dull that “if it were read in the open air, birds would fall stunned from the sky.”
David Byrne’s new book, “How Music Works,” is not so bad as that. But I’m fairly certain its tedium stunned some of the cluster flies on my office windows. They fell to the floor, wriggling, wondering what caused their speck-size concussions.
“How Music Works” is a roll of mental wallpaper, a textbook for a survey course you didn’t mean to sign up for. It drifts between music history, sonic anthropology, mild biographical asides, broad pop theory and grandfatherly financial and artistic advice. It’s all the things Mr. Byrne’s twitchy and alienated music withTalking Heads never was: genial, well-meaning, as forgettable as a real estate agent’s handshake. [Read the full article...]
Making Sense - David Byrne’s ‘How Music Works’
The New York Times Book Review – September 21, 2012 (Excerpt)
David Byrne is a brilliantly original, eccentric rock star, and he has written a book to match his protean talents. It is not exactly a memoir — “the ‘aging rocker bio’ is a crowded shelf,” as he puts it in his acknowledgments. It is not exactly a series of essays about music, either, though it is some of that. It’s a little bit of both, proudly or unashamedly exposing Byrne’s biases and aimed at a particular audience: his own fans. Since he appeals to people generously diverse in age and interests, however, that’s a pretty big potential readership.
Most books that attempt to explain music’s mysteries have been technical or historical in nature and concerned primarily with classical music. What’s best about “How Music Works” is that Byrne concentrates on his own experience, from a teenage geek splicing layers of guitar feedback on his father’s tape recorder (he had a mild self-diagnosed case of Asperger’s syndrome, he writes) to arty if neo-primitive rock star with the early Talking Heads at CBGB to increasingly sophisticated, globe-wandering art-rocker, happily collaborating with all manner of world musicians and pop-technological innovators (Brian Eno, Fatboy Slim). [Read the full article...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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