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article imageBook review: How Music Works Special

By Tim Sandle     Dec 23, 2012 in Entertainment
'How Music Works' is a new book by the musician David Byrne. It is part autobiographical and part an exposition into the world of music making and the subsequent affect on the listener. The e-book version is enhanced with musical excerpts.
The musician David Byrne, formerly the lead of Talking Heads and erstwhile champion of world music, has written a book about music.
David Byrne was a founder member, lead singer and chief tunesmith for the innovative 'new wave' band Talking Heads who put out a string of innovative and challenging albums between 1977 and 1988. Since the demise of Talking Heads Byrne has achieved success as a solo artist, from rock and pop music, to Latin influenced music, to classical compositions and the more recent 'gospel' inspired pop collaboration with Brian Eno ("Everything That Happens Will Happen To Day"). In addition to music, Byrne has displayed conceptual artworks and 'curates' a record label which has championed unknown South American artists.
His recent artistic ventures have included recording London to hear what is sounds like, building artistic bike racks, and recording a catchy electronica album with indie pop sensation St. Vincent.
As well as these various artistic and musical dalliances, Byrne has also written books. His previous books have explored some of his more quirky ideas or covered his journeys around the world on a bicycle. His new book, however, is a major work: lengthy insightful and richly illustrated.
The new book is titled 'How Music Works'.
Book cover  How Music Works
Book cover 'How Music Works'
David Byrne
The book takes the reader, through elegantly formed chapters, across a range of musical themes and ideas. Byrne covers the early days of the recording industry, various types of music venues, birdsong and whale calls, the significance of mixtapes, the development of CDs, his love of African rhythms, and the concept of creativity and what it means to be creative.
Byrne also touches upon his own career, although this is not an expose of the wild excesses of rock-and-roll. Byrne looks at the logistics of touring, stage-fright, the economics of releasing a record over the Internet, and the affect of the band upon the audience, among other topics.
Byrne's writing style is clear and he allows the reader space to think, over raising challenging questions such as 'What is music good for?', 'Why do we need music?', and 'What will the future of music?'.
Although Byrne raises a number of historical, technological, psychological and sociological examinations of music, he does not impose his opinions too heavily. This makes the book both fun and thought-provoking.
The section I liked best was the part where Byrne considers what music is like when performed in different environments, making the music sound different and moving the audience in different ways. Imagine a piece of music played in the following venues: huge Gothic cathedrals, intimate nightclubs, and jungle camp sites. Now think about room reverberation, volume of space, and audience vocal ambiance and performance dynamics. If this type of thing interests you, then this book is for you.
The book also covers other ground, which the Guardian provides a potted summary of:
"'How Music Works' is wonderfully wide-ranging, covering the prehistoric origins of music, Madonna's contracts, the musicality of animals, pie charts of earnings from his recent collaboration with Brian Eno, Pythagorean acousmatics, the compositional limitations of Midi software, Algerian pop, the Filipino People Power revolution, the ethics of philanthropy, 16 pages of tips on how to create a happening nightclub, and music's physiological and neurological effects."
The hardback version of the book is a joy to view. However, the e-book version is arguably more interesting since, in places, the reader can click on links and hear musical excerpts of the music that Byrne is discussing.
The book is 352 pages long and available from major retailers, including Amazon.
More about david byrne, Music, talking heads, tom tom club, New york
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