While it has taken me a long time to finish this book, I have really enjoyed it. Reading How Music Works is like having a rich conversation with David Byrne about what music does for people and what people have done with music. Byrne describes the role of music, from earliest communication to ritual and religion to selling records, as an integral part of being human. For fans of his music, there are plenty of references to his creative journey, from busking alone to Talking Heads to making a building into a musical instrument.
“We don’t make music – it makes us. Which is maybe the point of this whole book.” (p.162)
Each chapter focuses on a different facet of music – the creative process, performance, collaboration, technology, business – drawing on diverse disciplines and musical traditions to show how much music is woven into our lives. In addition to discussing the gifts of the incredibly talented, the innovators and the birth of a “scene”, Byrne also talks about more mundane issues like funding and accessibility. Financial support can bolster an elite, conservative view of the arts or create meaningful social change in reducing barriers to participation.
“Music as social glue, as a self-empowering agent, is maybe more profound than how perfectly a specific song is composed or how immaculately tight a band is.” (p.314)
While the whole book is about connections, the last chapter brings it all together by linking musical intervals, mathematical ratios, architecture, neurology, dance and visual arts. There seems to be nothing that music doesn’t touch.
(My thanks to Tony for the gift of this book!)
[How Music Works, David Byrne; 2012, McSweeney’s, San Francisco]