How Music Works

David Byrne, Author
David Byrne. McSweeney’s, $32 (352p) ISBN 978-1-936365-53-1
Reviewed on: 07/23/2012
Release date: 09/01/2012
Hardcover - 345 pages - 978-0-85786-250-1
Open Ebook - 349 pages - 978-1-938073-48-9
Paperback - 358 pages - 978-0-85786-253-2
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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)
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