Thursday, April 4, 2013

a good book.

How Music Works
Author: David Byrne
Pages: 352
Age Range: Adult
Published: 2012
Genre: Non-fiction
Cover Score: ***
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG-13 (some language)

It is no mystery that David Byrne (creative force behind Talking Heads) is knowledgeable about the ins and outs of music. Sprinkled with terms such as "sonic landscapes" and "tonal architecture", his book chronicles the changes in technology and culture that have aided in the evolution of music its composition, performance, and enjoyment (recordings, live concerts etc.) and Byrne's place in it.

Half of the book holds the general history while the other half contains Byrne's own personal experiences from his garage band days, as a part of Talking Heads and his various collaborations.  These weren't quite as interesting because I’m not familiar with his albums and music so many or the songs and people were unknown to me.  I admit I skimmed these sections a bit. But I did love some of his insights and could relate to many of his experiences.

After hearing the song ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ for the first time he said, "The world was suddenly a bigger, more mysterious, and more exciting place—all because I’d stumbled onto some recording." (94) Oh, how many times I've felt that way after hearing a piece of music, sometimes even re-hearing a piece in a way I'd not heard it before. Music can open up a realm of new possibilities and ideas.

He goes on to say:
Music tells us things—social things, psychological things, physical things about how we feel and perceive our bodies—in a way that other art forms can’t. It’s sometimes in the words, but just as often the content comes from a combination of sounds, rhythms, and vocal textures that communicate, as has been said by others, in ways that bypass the reasoning centers of the brain and go straight to our emotions. (94)

Later on he waxes poetic about mixtapes, calling them “pocket-sized audio wonder cabinets.”  I think this is a fabulous term! Obviously I'm a bit partial to the idea of mixtapes and think he summed it up quite nicely here.

The mixtapes we made for ourselves were musical mirrors. The sadness, anger or frustration you might be feeling at a given time could be encapsulated in the song selection. You made mixtapes that corresponded to emotional states, and they’d be available to pop into the deck when each feeling needed reinforcing or soothing. The mixtape was your friend, your psychiatrist, and your solace. (110)

The history portions were fascinating, filled with questions to ponder about the nature of music and our relationship to it (some along the lines of "if a tree falls in the wood...") and showing that the pulse of our world is often a rousing drumbeat.  Highly recommended for anyone at all interested in music.

And just for kicks...

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