How Music Works -David Byrne

David Byrne is a bit of a legend; musician, director and author. Starting out as a founding member of highly influential Talking Heads, he is considered one of the most important musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries having worked with Brian Eno, St Vincent, Ryuichi Sakamoto, De La Soul and many others. In how music works he has written a partly autobiographical, partly instructional and partly analytical discussion of musical theory. Using his own experience he gives great insight into the our understanding of music and humans relationship with music. Below is a link to the Stop Making Sense tour on YouTube, which is a brilliant soundtrack to this book, and mentioned at certain points.

By drawing on his own experience, as well as information provided by his contemporaries, Byrne is able to explain why we appreciate music as much as we do. He also discusses how we understand music and its influence over us, even in the context of birdsong and traffic noise. The main question in this area of study is about whether we listen to music in context of our surroundings, music has adapted from its cathedral setting to that of a sports stadium.

We get a brief history of recording, from the first music recorded by Edison, to the use of pre-war German technology to record onto tape, and further to LP, Cassette and CD. Later we explore the economics of the music industry, and Byrne’s thoughts on the future of the it in an internet age. Having been published in 2012, however, this is slightly outdated, especially with the recent rise in Vinyl sales. Byrne gives us six models in which the music industry works and his critique of each, it is this section of the book that is most interesting especially if you know any musicians of note.

Throughout this book Byrne is able to give the readers an insight to music that only years of working in the music industry can provide.There are parts of the book that actually revert to the autobiographical form that Byrne states he would like to avoid; he shows us his own musical development and maybe this was the point, the intention may have been to write about how music works, but at list half of this book becomes autobiography. Totally accessible to anyone with even the slightest interest in music, How Music Works is an excellent read, and truly explains how and why music is so important in the lives of so many people.


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