How Music Works

How Music Works

Book - 2012
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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 schoolreel-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.
Publisher: San Francisco : McSweeney's, c2012.
ISBN: 9781936365531
Characteristics: 345 p. : ill. (chiefly col.) ; 24 cm.


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Jun 22, 2018

Besides meditations on the nature of music from cultural perspectives, there is some fine material on The Talking Heads and the band's recordings, as well as Byrne's solo work, plus some surprisingly practical analysis of the music industry along with considerations on how a musician can still make a living.

Jul 11, 2015

I guess I'm too young (teenager) to really appreciate this book, since I found it difficult to engage with the parts that focus on music and technologies from before my time. Other parts, like those that focus on cultural differences and the music business I found very interesting though. So it balanced out to be ok. I'm sure many other people would enjoy the aspects that I didn't though.

CRRL_CraigGraziano Jun 26, 2015

Musician and writer David Byrne crafts such an enticing collection of essays, dropping factoids and anecdotes along the way, that I was equally informed and entertained.

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Apr 24, 2014

I stopped reading after a couple of chapters as I did not find the book that interesting or insightful.

Jul 03, 2013

This book needed both better editing and better proofreading. In many cases, I found myself wishing the library had the key books Byrne keeps drawing on, so I could go directly to the sources instead. "How Music Works" shines, though, when Byrne writes based his own first-hand knowledge -- such as how he has written songs or staged different performances, or the practical realities of the music business today in contrast to what he lived through in the 1970s and 80s.

WVMLStaffPicks Jun 09, 2013

Have you ever wondered why pop songs are roughly three minutes long, or how improvisation in jazz began? Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne answers these questions and more in his ambitious survey of musical creation. How Music Works combines a unique array of topics, looking at music from anthropological, historical, economical and autobiographical angles. A great read for music lovers!

Apr 16, 2013

I expected this to be an "aging rock star bio", but it's much more than that. Byrne does describe his own musical genesis, the formation and career of Talking Heads, and his own solo projects. But he uses this as grist for the mill in his larger discussion of what is music, how did it go from being something one played in a social context to a consumable object. I followed most of what he said about space determining the type of music which works best in it, the technology of recording, the business of music. But he lost me (through my own ignorance, I admit) when he started talking about scales and the music of the spheres. Great book, much to think about.

ChristchurchLib Nov 14, 2012

A true Renaissance man, David Byrne is a painter, photographer, and writer in addition to being a Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame inductee and co-founder of the new wave band Talking Heads. In How Music Works, which Booklist calls "endlessly fascinating, insightful, and intelligent," he presents a celebration of music that offers insight into a plethora of topics. From mixtapes and venues to birdsong and technology, the book ranges broadly - and entertainingly. Though his topic of choice is the evolution of music, Talking Heads fans will appreciate his riffs on the band, as well. Review in Next Reads Popular Culture newsletter November 2012


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