Thursday, June 29, 2017

Book Review: How Music Works by David Byrne

David Byrne is the front man of The Talking Heads, but son of a gun, he’s also a heck of a writer. How Music Works isn’t a typical celebrity biography. Byrne examines his own career in the broader context of the history of music; where it came from, how it’s created, and the evolution over time responding to the changes in society. His insights are fascinating.

Byrne notes music isn’t produced in a vacuum. Instead, musicians create works to fit the available venue. The first music was African drumbeats made to be performed in the open. As people moved indoors and venues changed so did the music and the audience interaction. He takes readers through advancements in music, noting the differences and continued evolution. Concerts have a completely different sound in a small theater than an outside arena and music had to adapt. With smaller groups, the interaction is up close and personal, the audience can distinguish individuals and their talents, but with growth comes complexity. You can’t pick the contribution of one clarinet from a whole orchestra.

Much of the book is dedicated to technological innovations starting with early wax cylinders up to present day music created not with instruments, but computers. Devices make it easier to acquire music, but music, once meant to be shared, is now often a solitary activity. The use of electronics to format a perfect performance created a strange juxtaposition. A recording was originally the simulation of a live performance. Now performances are considered the simulation of a recording.


This isn’t a book for someone only interested in the entertainment aspect of the music business, although Byrne goes into a lot of detail about his own career with The Talking Heads. Rather, it’s a detailed and thoughtful study for readers with a serious interest in all aspects of music; from history, business and finances, to deeper questions of where music comes from and why does it matter so much to us.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review.

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