‘How Music Works’ Book by David Byrne

Posted on December 5th, 2012 by in Music Industry News, Offbeat

How Music Works David Byrne Book sq
Musician, actor, author, Grammy-, Oscar- and Golden Globe-winner, biking advocate, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee; there are many facets to the man that is David Byrne. This fall, having released the epic Love This Giant album with St. Vincent, he toured the US with a dual aim – showcasing the new music at music venues by night, whilst also giving talks and contributing to panel discussions at schools, libraries, theaters and music business events by day, all ending right around the time of the release of his latest book.

How Music Works is out now (buy here), and shares his views on the structure and context of music, the influences and reason behind the Talking Heads music and video catalogue, as well as some discussion of the sociology and psychology of music: why we need it, why it moves people, and why we interact with it the way we do.

Whilst the book itself takes something of an inconsistent path and often evolves as a ‘stream of consciousness’ draft, you can tell that Byrne has spent his entire career thinking of these ideas and ‘policies’, and simultaneously trying to creatively bend them. The prime example here might be the way that modern music evolved for consumers to listen to trained musicians, often alone and via headphones, and the social aspect of simply coming together and making noise is somewhat lost. In return, Byrne developed a house that plays music. Yes, a building that became a musical instrument, which anyone can go along and join in and play, and ultimately create noise and celebrate the fun social aspect of sound.

Something mentioned in the NPR article above is discussed further in the book, and that is the way that people are guided to create a certain kind of music, often unknowingly. Anything is possible in music, yes, but because a software architect set up a program in a certain way now means that the creative process follows path ‘x‘. Byrne mentions that because early recording technology was great for capturing singers, but wasn’t very receptive to bass frequencies (they would cause the needle to jump from the wax cylinder), and so many jazz recording sessions would place the bass players way at the back of the hall, or leave them out entirely. This context shaped the type of music that people would consume.

These deductions about the recording, sharing, listening and performing of music are solidified with his autobiographical examples. Perhaps best known as the front man of new wave band Talking Heads, it is nice that Byrne explains some of these theories as they relate to his own work. Between 1975 and 1991 Talking Heads released quirky pop hits and off the wall videos, and the thoughts and actions behind these projects are shared openly and acutely.

All these perceptions and relevant examples make for an intelligent and convincing viewpoint, and something that many musicians will do well to indulge in and explore themselves, hopefully resulting in creative and communal noise-making for many years to come.


by Lee Jarvis.
Follow Lee on twitter @leejarvis and get Music Jobs updates from @ukmusicjobs.


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