On My Bookshelf – How Music Works

I grew up listening to David Byrne. When I was six or seven, my dad would put on Stop Making Sense, queue up “Take Me To The River,” and dance and sing wildly to the rhythmic jam. Byrne’s willingness to collaborate with everyone from Brian Eno to St. Vincent to Thievery Corporation to Arcade Fire makes him one of the most versatile and interesting artists of the past fifty years. If you can’t tell, I just really have a deep, deep love and appreciation for this man and his music.

The man, the suit, the legend

So when I saw that he had written a book called How Music Works, I was beyond excited. My three favorite things – David Byrne, music, and books about music, together in one perfect publication! And let me tell you, it doesn’t disappoint.

The book is part history, part memoir, and part guidebook, as Byrne simplifies his vast breadth of musical knowledge into something both easily understood and incredibly interesting. It’s far from an autobiography, although he talks quite a bit about his career and his various collaborations. Instead, it’s a well-researched (if occasionally poorly-edited) story of how context shapes music, turning the idea of “strokes of genius” on its head. Byrne argues that innovations in how we listen to music, such as shifts in the architecture of music halls or the techniques we use to record, change the type of music that is made; the physical and cultural context that the music will be heard in shapes the music that is able to be heard.

I really loved this book. It’s beautiful and Byrne-ian, from the color-coordinated footnotes and chapter titles to the shockingly orange cover. It certainly has its flaws – the editing is lax, with several factual mistakes and a fair amount of repetitive phrasing – but Byrne’s passion and knowledge shines through on every page. Read it if you’re a fan of his music, or music in general.

You can purchase a copy of How Music Works from Amazon, or from your local bookstore.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for a fair review.


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