March 18, 2016

Quality Instruction: David Byrne's "How Music Works"

I listened to this as an audiobook I downloaded. That means that there were points that I wanted to write something down, but may not have been able to fully capture. There are no notes to reference so rather I will have to speak in generalities.

The book is both autobiography and analysis. I have not been following Byrne’s career much or at all, but it is interesting to listen to because it is one example of the career path that a musician could take in the days that he started out and has still continued to make a living as a working musician. Any aspiring artist should be able to look at that for inspiration. He and other members of the Talking Heads lived in a run-down flat on the Bowery when the Bowery was more Warriors New York than the Disney version of a city at least the island is today (poor people could afford to live there!).

The stronger sections though are the ones where Byrne dives deep in the history of recorded sound and the playing of music in all its contexts. I will not be able to fully articulate it here, but he covered a lot of things about music that I hadn’t really thought of, like how the cultural context of how we listen to music shapes the music that artists create, and how dependent on technological developments the music that we listen to today is – even what is played on the oldies stations were novel at some point, and that’s important to remember. My favorite little piece of trivia is that the Theremin was invented in the 20’s, much earlier than I would have though.

Overall, this is a very successful book, and I was a bit disappointed when it ended, since I really wanted him to keep going. It will be worth it to wait around for the sequel.