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How Music Works (2012)

by David Byrne

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1,1122415,118 (3.9)50
The Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame inductee and co-founder of Talking Heads presents a celebration of music that offers insight into the roles of time, place and recording technology, discussing how evolutionary patterns of adaptations and responses to cultural and physical contexts have influenced music expression throughout history and culminated in the 20th century's transformative practices.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
I was surprised how captivatingly educational this book was. For anyone who's ever thought about music, this book was easy to follow and seemed to contain the many elements of what effect music has. I found the chapters on recording music a little long-winded, but completely forgive the author as that is what he has most direct experience of. I found the references useful, particularly loved the mention of Theremins, Oliver Sacks, layering tape cassettes, ambient music in public spaces, MTV, Soundscapes, and sounds made by the human body and the planets. Indeed as I was reading I was thinking the author should mention this, and found a few pages later he was writing about what I was thinking of. (I chuckle at the first book in the recommended reading section was Joseph Campbell's "Hero..." - I think authors only do this to show their book is clever!) I wish there was an index too, but overall thought this was a very stimulating and rewarding read. I wonder now about Byrne's "Playing the Building". ( )
  AChild | Oct 23, 2021 |
Not a huge fan of the band, so his forays into his past and the compositional where-tos and what-fors weren't that interesting. But, what brought it up from a 1- star were the philosophical musings and interesting facts about recorded music-- especially the last few chapters.

That was quite nicely done. ( )
  OutOfTheBestBooks | Sep 24, 2021 |

David Byrne provides some incredible insight and commentary on music in this book, and I say this as someone who isn't a fan of the Talking Heads. This is a surprisingly accurate title, as he goes over "how music works" in multiple ways. From theory, to history, to it's effect on evolution, to how scenes develop (like at CBGB's), to highlight various methods albums are recorded, to how record deals are made, to how touring works, to how collaboration and songwriting works, and everything in between. This book is incredibly researched, and provides a lot of insight, and provokes a lot of questions. ( )
  Andjhostet | Jan 11, 2021 |
Hay varios comentarios negativos sobre el libro porque David Byrne no explica realmente como funciona la musica en la forma que ellos imaginaban. No explica musicologia o la pasa muy de lado. Pero en cambio explica sobre el fenomeno economico y social de la musica contemporanea. Yo creo que tiene mas valor, al menos es algo que yo nunca habia leido antes. ( )
  trusmis | Nov 28, 2020 |
How Music Works by David Byrne This book covers the historical, social and political history of pop music. Maybe it's more than that too. It is also a meditation on who we are as a culture.
A progression from a time in history where everyone made their own music to the twentieth century where we all became passive consumers of music. How music went from being a shared participatory social experience to a solitary passive experience with headphones. How the advent of electricity and the time pressure of working in factories and offices changed  how we lived beyond all previous recognition.
The forces both social and financial that brought this about and how the money works.
How in the past musicians had been at the mercy of the large music labels. But now with the advent of cheap high quality recording equipment and the Internet as the delivery mechanism how that power balance has shifted and what that means both financially and socially.
He goes through the production costs of one of his albums and the income derived from that and though we imagine a luxurious lifestyle from large record sales it is indeed easy to go broke and not only make no money, but to end up millions of dollars debt to the recording labels.
Why the production of mega stars like Justin Beiber is such a necessity and why such "products" has very little to do with talent or skill and a lot to do with marketing.
He talks about various community based programs that teach kids how to make music and how in crime infested, gang dominated, slums these programs are actively turning kids away from that self destructive lifestyle and giving them some hope and ambition:
Maybe the most successful music education program in the world originated in a parking garage in Venezuela in 1975. It’s called El Sistema (the system), and it was begun by economist and musician José Antonio Abreu with just eleven kids. Having now produced high-level musicians, two hundred youth orchestras, 330,000 players, and quite a few conductors (Gustavo Dudamel was a product of this program), it is being adopted by countries all over the world.
As Abreu says, "Essentially this is a system that fights poverty… A child’s physical poverty is over-come by the spiritual richness that music provides". When asked if his music program was a vehicle for social change, he replied, “Without a doubt that is what is happening in Venezuela.” The kids who might otherwise feel that their options in life are extremely limited are passionate about the program. “From the minute a child is taught how to play an instrument, he is no longer poor. He becomes a child in progress, heading for a professional level, who’ll later become a citizen.
In other places he talks about the funding for music and how millions is poured into classical music but by comparison, community based schemes like the one above struggle for money. Inevitably he points to class and money and how classical music is perceived as "better" than other forms and how in America arms dealers, oil men and Swiss banks with dubious histories all gain "social kudos" by donating money to various orchestra and opera houses. As he points out about the composers whose music is played, "the ain't writing any new stuff".
Also consider this for a sobering thought: "As a result of the "No Child Left Behind" policy and its inherent emphasis on test scores, US schools gutted their arts programs by more than half in most states.
Makes you wonder what's happening here at home in NZ with National Standards.
David Byrne is a clever guy. He is intelligent, thoughtful and inventive. This book was everything that I imagined it to be and then a lot more than I imagined too. ( )
  Ken-Me-Old-Mate | Sep 24, 2020 |
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The Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame inductee and co-founder of Talking Heads presents a celebration of music that offers insight into the roles of time, place and recording technology, discussing how evolutionary patterns of adaptations and responses to cultural and physical contexts have influenced music expression throughout history and culminated in the 20th century's transformative practices.

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