David Byrne has long been a pioneer of music. From his early days as the front man of the Talking Heads to his passion projects with Brian Eno in to his later day solo work or duet projects, he has embraced music as both a way of life and a way to make a living. In “How Music Works”, available now from the Cedar Rapids Metro Library Network, he both chronicles that journey and also looks to discover why music holds such power over culture.
The book opens with a look at how music evolved over the centuries, especially how the means people listened to it caused it to change. He makes few judgments about whether these changes were for good or bad, only that technology molded—and still does mold—the way we listen to music.
He covers his entire career as well, from his early days at CBGB to his more recent solo work, but as he does so, he also covers the way the music industry evolved around him. He watched music change from an age where everything pretty much operated in simple analog ways to an industry where digital technology can correct any mistake a musician makes.
In perhaps the most interesting and conjectural chapter, he discusses how live music evolves as well. He even spends time dissecting what makes a venue go from simply a place to see music to a “scene” where something of cultural significance occurs.
The book concludes with an interesting look at how the new technology has allowed just about everyone in the world access to music making and sharing and how that might shape what we hear in coming decades.
Byrne does it all with an elegance of word unsurprising to fans of his music. His prose is easy to grasp, but erudite enough to display the massive amounts of research he put into developing his treatise on music. As a non-musician, this Examiner learned more than he could imagine about not just the music industry but the shape and form of music than he ever thought possible.
With dozens of images, “How Music Works” is as visually interesting as it is textually, whether it be images of ancient musical instruments, Byrne’s earliest days on the road or devices used to mix and produce music. Few pages pass without some visual imagery just as interesting as Byrne’s treatise on music.
“How Music Works” is a book for everyone, musicians to music lovers to people that don’t understand music’s hold on those around them. The Cedar Rapids Books Examiner gives it his highest rating, five stars.
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