What is this book? It’s a musical autobiography by The Talking Heads’ David Byrne. It’s an art manifesto. It’s a history of exploitation in the music business. It’s a punk rock how to guide. It’s cosmic mysticism and star science. It’s good.
How Music Works is about how music is made, and how music makes us. Specifically, chapters focus on certain aspects of music creation such as context, technology, commerce, and collaboration. The book doesn’t necessarily build a narrative, and individual sections can be read out of order or in isolation. However, as Byrne notes in the introduction, the book does have a certain logical flow to it.
While the material in the book is largely accessible to anyone, it probably makes the most sense if you are a musician and/or a Byrne fan. For twenty years I have been guitar slinging for fun and romance, so the art and music portions of the book were especially interesting to me. I don’t know much of the Heads’ catalogue; Byrne’s stories about the creation of certain albums was interesting but not as insightful as it could have been had I listened to the author’s catalogue before reading.
This book is a solid four stars for me because I found it challenging and inspirational. The artist in me was very interested in exploring how the context of my time, of pop and blues song structure, and even of digital home recording shapes my art. The theologian in me got very excited when Byrne explored what “music” is, what occurs naturally in the universe, and how art elevates us. I couldn’t give it five stars because the text wanders at times (to me).
If you get goosebumps when you think about how fun and amazing it is to be swept away by music, or how much fun it is to lock into grooves with other musicians is, or if you hate bougie classical music fans and don’t know why, check out this book.