How Music Works

How Music Works

3.2 5
by David Byrne
     
 

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How Music Works is David Byrne’s buoyant celebration of a subject he has spent a lifetime thinking about. Drawing on his work over the years with Talking Heads, Brian Eno, and myriad collaborators—along with journeys to Wagnerian opera houses, African villages, and anywhere music exists—Byrne shows how music emerges from cultural circumstance

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Overview

How Music Works is David Byrne’s buoyant celebration of a subject he has spent a lifetime thinking about. Drawing on his work over the years with Talking Heads, Brian Eno, and myriad collaborators—along with journeys to Wagnerian opera houses, African villages, and anywhere music exists—Byrne shows how music emerges from cultural circumstance as much as individual creativity. It is his magnum opus, and an impassioned argument about music’s liberating, life-affirming power.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
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…His prose style is not very elegant…And yet his personality shines indelibly through this book, just as it does through all his varied albums…certainly a must for the many fans of David Byrne and perhaps others, too, those who wish to follow him down his own personal rabbit hole of speculation and explication.
—John Rockwell
The Washington Post
This is a decidedly generous book—welcoming, informal, digressive, full of ideas and intelligence—and one has the pleasant sense that Byrne is speaking directly to the reader, sharing a few confidences he has picked up over the years. It is part autobiography, part how-to guide, part history and part prognostication…Byrne and his book make for good company.
—Tim Page
Publishers Weekly
In this fascinating meditation, Talking Heads frontman Byrne (Bicycle Diaries) explores how social and practical context, more than individual authorship, shaped music making in history and his own career. Touching on everything from bird-song and mirror neurons to the scene at CBGB, his wide-ranging treatment analyzes the effect of music venues (he theorizes that terrible stadium acoustics bias arena-rock bands toward plodding anthems), technology (sound recording induced opera singers to add vibrato), finances (he proffers balance sheets for two of his albums), and much else on the music we hear. He draws extensively from his own experiences, as his music shifted from the minimalism of early Talking Heads (“no ‘oh, babys’ or words that I wouldn’t use in in daily speech”) to complex theatricality; his chapters on Heads recording sessions are some of the most insightful accounts of musical creativity yet penned. The result is a surprising challenge to the romantic cliché of musical genius: rather than an upwelling of authentic feeling, he insists, “making music is like constructing a machine whose function is to dredge up emotions in performer and listener.” Byrne’s erudite and entertaining prose reveals him to be a true musical intellectual, with serious and revealing things to say about his art. Photos. (Sept. 21)
From the Publisher

"From the former Talking Heads frontman, a supremely intelligent, superbly written dissection of music as an art form and way of life...Byrne touches on all kinds of music from all ages and every part of the world... Highly recommended—anyone at all interested in music will learn a lot from this book."
Kirkus (Starred Review)

"In this fascinating meditation, Talking Heads frontman Byrne (Bicycle Diaries) explores how social and practical context, more than individual authorship, shaped music making in history and his own career... his chapters on Heads recording sessions are some of the most insightful accounts of musical creativity yet penned. The result is a surprising challenge to the romantic cliché of musical genius... Byrne’s erudite and entertaining prose reveals him to be a true musical intellectual, with serious and revealing things to say about his art."
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“David Byrne is a brilliantly original, eccentric rock star, and he has written a book to match his protean talents ... What’s best about [it] 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.”—John Rockwell, The New York Times Book Review

"Endlessly fascinating, insightful, and intelligent."
—June Sawyers, Booklist (Starred Review)

"[How Music Works is] the book [Byrne] was born to write. I could make a good case for calling this How Art Works or even How Everything Works."—Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing

"Byrne explores a whole symphony of argument in this extraordinary book with the precise, technical enthusiasm you'd expect from the painfully bright art school-educated son – born in Scotland, raised in the States – of an electrical engineer, occasionally mopping his fevered brow in the crestfallen manner of a 19th-century poet... It's fascinating."—Mark Ellen, The Guardian

"'How Music Works,' is as engaging as it is eclectic: a buoyant hybrid of social history, anthropological survey, autobiography, personal philosophy, and business manual, sometimes on the same page... We’re changed. Even for the most ardent explorers (and Byrne is one) this is some seriously unknowable territory."—The Boston Globe

“By all accounts, Byrne’s style and energy are as apparent on the page as on the stage.”—Kathryn Schulz, New York Magazine

“[Byrne] wraps his keen cultural insights in a sheath of self-aware subjectivity and unapologetic personal conviction, with just the right amount of conversational candor”—Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

"How Music Works is a good read for anyone interested in art and technology and how creativity has been transformed in the digital age."—Bryant Frazer, Studio Daily

“Truly dazzling, covering a staggering scope of topics ... Almost every page [is] a song.” —Jason Heller, The Onion A.V. Club

“In the course of How Music Works, Byrne integrates his discussion of all the issues of recording and live performance into a personal account of his own career. Although this book stops short of turning into a memoir or autobiography, fans seeking a behind-the-scenes account of Byrne's life and times won't be disappointed ... An essential guide to performance and recording, honest and up-to-date, and filled with both practical advice and insightful commentary.”—Ted Gioia, The San Francisco Chronicle

“Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Jay Z, even Daniel Lanois have all given us books in recent years. And they’ve all been interesting and worth reading. But none of them is as good as David Byrne’s book ... He weaves his account of the evolution of music from animals to humans and the history of changes in the way music studios work into the most accessible and unpretentious narrative of such a story that I have yet come across.”—David Rothenberg, The Globe and Mail

“A decidedly generous book — welcoming, informal, digressive, full of ideas and intelligence — and one has the pleasant sense that Byrne is speaking directly to the reader, sharing a few confidences he has picked up over the years. ” —Tim Page, The Washington Post

“An accomplished celebration of an ever-evolving art form that can alter how we look at ourselves and the world... a meticulously researched and hugely absorbing history of music”—Fiona Sturges, The Independent

“An entertaining and erudite book, from a figure who has spent his career proving that those two adjectives can happily coexist ... The chapter on the economics of music should be required reading for all 16-year-olds tinkering with their GarageBand software and dreaming of dollar signs, while the section on “How to Make A Scene” is nothing less than a manual for urban regeneration through pop culture ... A serious, straightforward account of an art form that also manages to be inspiring. You could do a lot worse than use it as a thinking-outside-the-box management manual or a college primer. Art and Society 101: Stop Making Sense.”—Peter Aspden, Financial Times

“David Byrne deserves great praise for How Music Works. It is as accessible as pop yet able to posit deep and startlingly original thoughts and discoveries in almost every paragraph ... This book will make you hear music in a different way.—Oliver Keens, The Telegraph

“Smart and impeccably researched ... A text to read and pick through time and again ... all this is what you’d expect, and hope for, from the foremost heady apologist of pop music. It’s a must-read for anyone who has ever felt moved by a catchy tune and wanted more.”—James Ramsay, BlackBook

Library Journal
As this book's title suggests, musician and Talking Heads cofounder Byrne (Bicycle Diaries) brings the same ambition and wide-ranging focus to his writing that has always been present in his music and visual art. In chapters that function as distinct essays, he explores several hows of music: how technology has shaped its history, how artists can make money from it, and how our culture and surroundings affect our reactions to it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this broad approach results in shallow spots, with underdeveloped lines of thought and interesting topics that vanish too quickly. Yet despite the lapses in rigor, Byrne has a knack for presenting ideas and theories from music scholarship—notably, the still-emerging field of sound culture—in an accessible manner. VERDICT While he avoids focusing on his musical career, Byrne's ability to draw upon his experiences with Talking Heads and as a solo artist to illustrate his points is a clear strength. Music fans of all stripes will find engaging material in this book.—Chris Martin, North Dakota State Univ. Libs., Fargo, ND
Kirkus Reviews
From the former Talking Heads frontman, a supremely intelligent, superbly written dissection of music as an art form and way of life. 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. Highly recommended--anyone at all interested in music will learn a lot from this book.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781938073533
Publisher:
McSweeney's Publishing
Publication date:
09/17/2013
Edition description:
Revised
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
125,140
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author


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 and The New Sins, Byrne lives in New York City.

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