How Music Works is David Byrne's buoyant celebration of a subject he has spent a lifetime thinking about.
Equal parts historian and anthropologist, raconteur and social scientist, Byrne draws on his own work over the years with Talking Heads, Brian Eno, and his myriad collaborators - along with journeys to Wagnerian opera houses, African villages, and anywhere music exists - to show that music-making is not just the act of a solitary composer in a studio, but rather a logical, populist, and beautiful result of cultural circumstance.
A brainy, irresistible adventure, How Music Works is an impassioned argument about music's liberating, life-affirming power.
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 clich 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.