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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


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
Praise for How Music Works

“Brilliantly original”—The New York Times Book Review

“Fascinating” —Booklist

“Extraordinary” —The Guardian

“Dazzling”—The Onion A.V. Club

“Essential”—The San Francisco Chronicle

“Absorbing”—The Independent

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.

Product Details

McSweeney's Publishing
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

DAVID BYRNE is an author, a musician, and a filmmaker known for his creative collaborations and work with the Talking Heads. He resides in New York.

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How Music Works 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
lovelybookshelf More than 1 year ago
This is a review of the audiobook. How Music Works is a non-fiction loving, eclectic reader's dream. It covers history, culture, science, psychology, technology, politics, business, entertainment, and so much more, all with a hefty dose of memoir thrown in. Information and ideas are presented in a logical order, each point setting the foundation for ruminations yet to come. The subject matter is what kept me listening; the narration was completely uninspiring. I wish the author had read the book, because I enjoyed listening to his prologue. Many times I wondered if narrator Andrew Garman either didn't understand what he was reading, or wasn't interested in it much at all. The business aspects of the recording industry and how music scenes are created started to lose my interest. I also felt there were times when Byrne was overly and unfairly judgmental of the classical music world. But for the most point, Byrne had my brain whirling with thoughts and ideas. This book offers so much to think about and discuss. I was especially fascinated by the way our brains process sound, and how recordings have changed the way we listen to and judge the music we hear. There was a beautiful explanation of the communal aspects of music: why people still attend live concerts when they can simply listen on their own devices at home, alone. And I loved when Byrne talked about the mixtape as an expressive form, communicating what we can't or are too shy to put into words. Eleanor & Park, anyone? :) How Music Works is a thought-provoking journey through all the disciplines and details that guide our musical experiences.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent. Really enjoyed this book. Insight into the writing and creation of music, the business of music, and collaboration between artists. My favorite book of 2012!
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