Published: October 2012
What They Say: How Music Works is David Byrne's remarkable 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 school reel-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 the business of making music, How Music Works is an irresistible adventure and an impassioned argument for music's liberating, life-affirming power.
What Elaine Says: This really was a joy to read. Touching on all aspects (and genres) of music, from the how technology shapes our perceptions of what music should be, to what to expect from a recording contract, this book really does cover it all.
David Byrne (frontman from Talking Heads), is engaging, funny, insightful, immensely knowledgeable and more importantly, enthusiastic about a subject he has dedicated his life too.
I have no involvement in the world of music but it's a big part of my life. For me, this book was fascinating and, even the elements of which I know nothing (music agents, studio tech etc), gave me an interesting glance and what goes into modern pop music.
The one thing that stopped this book rating higher for me is that it sometimes reads slightly more like an autobiography than a celebration of music. Byrne obviously uses his own experience in the music business but, just occasionally, he seems to lose the subject. Most of this is in the beginning half of the book and, as I said, it doesn't happen that often. Also, turns out even this was interesting!
So if you are involved in the music world or simply like switching on the radio every so often, I'm, almost certain you'll find this book a great read.
Elaine's Rating: 8/10
"A century of technological innovation and the digitisation of music has inadvertently had the effect of emphasising its social function. Not only do we still give friends copies of music that excites us, but increasingly we have come to value the social aspect of a live performance more than we used to. Music technology in some ways appears to have been on a trajectory in which the end result is that it will destroy and devalue itself. It will succeed completely when it self-destructs. The technology is useful and convenient, but it has, in the end, reduced its own value and increased the value of the things it has never been able to capture or reproduce."