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How Music Works [Hardcover]

David Byrne
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)

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Book Description

13 Sep 2012
How Music Works is David Byrne's buoyant celebration of a subject he has spent a lifetime thinking about.

Equal parts historian and anthropologist, raconteur and social scientist, Byrne draws on his own work over the years with Talking Heads, Brian Eno, and his myriad collaborators - along with journeys to Wagnerian opera houses, African villages, and anywhere music exists - to show that music-making is not just the act of a solitary composer in a studio, but rather a logical, populist, and beautiful result of cultural circumstance.

A brainy, irresistible adventure, How Music Works is an impassioned argument about music's liberating, life-affirming power.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 358 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd (13 Sep 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0857862502
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857862501
  • Product Dimensions: 0.3 x 18.6 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 115,663 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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It was wildly ambitious to try and turn this galaxy of theory into a readable work of scholarship but Byrne has done it, and done it with style. Brian Eno might as well cancel that book deal now Mark Ellen, The Observer

A very involving read - Byrne is good company - he has a gift for a telling analogy that makes complex points easily grasped Keith Bruce The Herald

Incisive and intriguing Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard

As well as being an investigation into the context in which music is made, How Music Works is an accomplished celebration of an ever-evolving art form that can alter how we look at ourselves and the world Fiona Sturges, Independent

How Music Works is a melange of bookish musings on how music is shaped by the places it is played and the technology used to create and disseminate it Danny Eccleston, MOJO

David Byrne deserves great praise for How Music Works. It is as accessible as pop yet able to posit deep and startlingly original thoughts and discoveries in almost every paragraph. Not unlike getting your ears syringed, this book will make you hear music in a different way... Every form of music, from birdsong onwards, is considered and elegantly related to form, debunking romantic conceits about music and presenting a far more beautiful rationality. In the process, Byrne shows not just how music works, but how music publishing should work too Oliver Keens, The Sunday Telegraph

An entertaining and erudite book ... this is a serious, straight-forward account of an art from that also manages to be inspiring Peter Aspden, Financial Times

How Music Works is not just a noticeably handsome book but a beguiling and hugely perceptive one too Jonathan O'Brien, Sunday Business Post

A big beautiful work of art... As you might expect from someone as intelligent and open-minded as Byrne, How Music Works is a far ranging and astute look at all the facets of music Doug Johnstone, The Big Issue

Creators of all stripes will find much to inspire them in Mr Byrne's erudite musings on the biological and mathematical underpinnings of sound... His observations on the nature of pattern and repetition, and on people's neurological response to aesthetic experience, apply to all creative fields The Economist

Given the vastness of the subject, calling a treatise How Music Works seems intellectually arrogant, but it could also be seen as disarmingly frank, a fresh perspective from a down-to-earth mind. David Byrne's book, although a self-conscious art object (backwards pagination, upholstered cover and so on) contains plenty of plain-spoken, sensible observations: a dichotomy typical of the man Guardian

It's a great book to pick up and start at any chapter, a hugely rewarding and enriching read. A fascinating look at music from many angles, I would receommend it to anyone who plays or simply has an interest in the history and evolution of the musical form, the culture of music, both as a well of inspiration and as a simple commodity Irish Times

An ambitious attempt at understanding a phenomenon to which the former Talking Head has dedicated his life's work John Doran, Quietus

By investigating how music works, Byrne shows us how best it can be used. We are all the richer for his effort Yo Zushi, New Statesman

Disarmingly frank, a fresh perspective from a down-to-earth mind Michel Faber, The Guardian

How Music Works is a big, beautiful work of art ... a far-ranging and astute look at all facets of music ... This is a really rather remarkable book The Big Issue --The Big Issue

The finest music book of the year ... Handsomely bound, beautifully printed, wittily illustrated, it would make a beautiful collector's item but there is much more going on between the covers ... bursting with a sense of free-flowing curiosity Neil McCormick, The Daily Telegraph

Fascinating look at music's power to move Alexis Petridis, The Guardian

Unique among a deluge of music biographies and autobiographies coming out this Christmas, this wildly ambitious book breaks the mould Arthur House, The Sunday Telegraph

Byrne is a crisp and enthusiastic guide Rob Fitzpatrick, The Sunday Times

Creators of all stripes will find much to inspire them in Mr Byrne's erudite musings on the biological and mathematical underpinnings of sound, from Plato to Copernicus and from John Cage to Tantric Buddhists. How Music Works should be required reading for all writers and publishers The Economist

As accessible as pop yet able to posit deep and startlingly original thoughts and discoveries in almost every paragraph ... this book will make you hear music in a different way Oliver Keens, The Sunday Telegraph

How Music Works in as entertaining and erudite book ... The chapter on the economics of music should be required reading for all 16-year-olds tinkering with their GarageBand software and dreaming of dollar signs Peter Aspden, Financial Times

[A] wide-ranging tome Geeta Daval, Wired Magazine

Not just a noticeably handsome book ... but a beguiling and hugely perceptive one too Jonathan O'brien Sunday Business Post

A fluid, intelligent analysis' --Patrick Freyne, The Irish Times

Book Description

David Byrne's internationally bestselling magnum opus on the subject of music --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well-considered essay 6 Mar 2013
By Steve D
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
So, bearing in mind David Byrne's "Psycho Egghead" reputation, should we be surprised that this is a well thought-out and put together piece of work, with a somewhat of centre perspective? Not at all; however, there was always the possibility that this might be too intellectual an exercise; thankfully, Byrne avoids trying to be too bookish and instead adopts more of a personal approach that largely takes in his own experience. Nevertheless, this is not to such an extent that people who aren't fans of his music will automatically dislike the book. He tends to be quite objective about his past and never adopts an authoritarian approach of "I've done all this so I know what I'm saying"; in fact, his personal references are quite understated.

Well worth a read.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars David Byrne: How Music Works 8 Nov 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Highly enjoyable, well-informed and fluently written account of how music works on us and through us. Byrne considers the history, reception, and making of music from his perspective as a practicing musician. Whether you like his music or not (and I do), this book will increase your knowledge and awareness of what music does and how it achieves its effects. Byrne is thoughtful and scholarly in his approach without being obscure or needlessly lofty. I listen better now and enjoy music, any kind of music, more thoroughly.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book 22 Nov 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A superb read full of interesting insight into art, music and culture. Read cover to cover or dip in to he bits that interest you.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This is a great mixture of scholarship, passion and considered observation. David Byrne is not only a talented performer and writer - he's also a teacher, critic and (above all) thoughtful guide.
This book will tell you about the 'business' of the recording industry in a way I've never seen unpacked before (record contracts from the POV of someone who's been there); about acoustics (Bayreuth vs. CBGBs) and personal reflections about how to express the creative urge.
It's erudite. It's accessible (you don't have to like David Byrne's particular taste)and its engaging.
Regardless of which forms of music you enjoy, you'll come away from this book thanking David Byrne for having given you more and richer insights into the process as well as the product.
It's as serious a book about the art, craft and science of music as you'll ever read.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening and entertaining 11 Oct 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A fascinating guide to music and why it matters so much to us, with a bit of autobiography to boot. It's fascinating and funny, although I suspect some of it may be a little too dense for non musicians: for example, one chapter provides a very detailed breakdown of the costs of making records and the various chunks of money different models generate. It left me with two strong urges: to listen to Talking Heads, and to grab my own guitar and revel in the sheer joy of making a racket.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, but.... 29 April 2013
...the title flatters to deceive. "How Music Works for Me" would have been a more accurate description. This is really no more than a loose collection of David Byrne's musings on the music biz with a little bit of pseudo-science thrown into the mix.

As it is, it is an entertaining, but sometimes loose-knit and rambly selection that could have done with some serious editing. Unfortunately, Byrne draws no distinction between drawing on his own experiences (which is interesting), and drawing on accepted knowledge (which is infuriating). For example, admitting that he has next to no knowledge of Western Classical music does not stop him from comparing its performing tradition unfavourably with his own brand of "music for the people" based purely on the (supposed) demographic of its audience.

I have always enjoyed David Byrne and Talking Heads' recorded music and rate "Stop Making Sense" as one of the very best music films ever made - but he is less than honest about his aims in this book - which makes it a frustrating read. Had he done a bit more research, and relied less on received opinions in some areas, it could have been a much more interesting read.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A strange mixture 4 Dec 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
What exactly is this book trying to be? In places it seems to be an autobiography of David Byrne's recording career both with Talking Heads and as a solo artist, but then it is an analysis of the record industry in general plus an essay on different types of concert venue and the structure of classical music. It is almost always interesting but not being a musician I did struggle with some of the technical bits on musical constructs, and found some sections a little heavy going, but the parts about Talking Heads made me want to watch "Stop Making Sense" again. Did it tell me how music worked? Not really, but it was for the most part an enjoyable read.

Incidentally, a few irritations for Kindle readers: The book is fairly heavily illustrated, but the illustrations (in the text rather than a separate section) often appear a fair way on from their mentions rather than after the paragraph concerned, and there are numerous typos where words run together.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little bit self indulgent. 30 Jan 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I'm interested in the physics and psychology of music. I'm also a big fan of the Talking Heads. I'm wasn't naive enough to think that there wouldn't be some Talking Heads content in this book, but it's called "How MUSIC Works", not How THE TALKING HEADS Work.

I had to put it down (metaphorically, on my kindle) and go over to another book that I also had my eye on (Mo Meta Blues by Questlove) but I may revisit this in the future.

Otherwise, there is some interesting content, and a LOT of Talking Heads content.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Knows his subject
Published 9 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for a music lover,music lovers.
Love David Byrne and his work as Talking Heads frontman/writer arranger.thankyou very much,Richard Diplacito.
Published 2 months ago by Mr Richard diplacito
5.0 out of 5 stars what a great introduction to the wonders of music
I didn't know really what to expect from this book. I'm tired of music biographies in general but this book is not that. Read more
Published 5 months ago by S. Luke
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read for anyone who loves music
You may not completely agree with David Byrne on some of his opinions - those are opinions, after all - but then the book is worth reading for the facts, and there's plenty of it. Read more
Published 6 months ago by brunorc
5.0 out of 5 stars A true protector of music and art.
Great read for musicians and non-musicians. Byrne is a dedicated spoke person of music. Non didactic and friendly teacher. Thank you for the music
Published 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book
This is one of the most in-depth, insightful and comprehensive studies of music I have yet read. Byrne explores all kinds of aspects of music, giving useful details about how the... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Mr. Gary Mcleod
5.0 out of 5 stars a very impressive achievement and a gripping reading experience
Quite a remarkable achievement which is a very satisfying mixture of reflections on the nature of music and why it is the way it is; and reflections on David Byrne's own life in... Read more
Published 10 months ago by William Jordan
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating book
I was only familiar with a handful of Talking Heads songs before picking this up and knew little of David Byrne himself (or his thoughts) but this book fascinated me from start to... Read more
Published 10 months ago by H. Gardner
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read for all musicians
Talking Heads were great and Byrne is a forward thinking genius. The book is insightful, goes off tangent at times and can get surreally messy in places, but is still a top read... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Mr. P. Mex
1.0 out of 5 stars Rubbish
It begins with a groundbreaking idea that artists might work within accepted formats, and then immediately wanders off into confused and disjointed memoires about the Talking... Read more
Published 11 months ago by polypx
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