How Music Works is a non-fiction book by musician and composer David Byrne. He discussed the form and influence of music in a non-linear narrative way, using various experiences in his career to create some autobiography and music theories.
This book has a highly non-linear structure and contains information similar to manuals, elements of Byrne’s autobiography, and anthropological data on music theory. They are intertwined, and each chapter can exist independently. Byrne studies the influence of music from a rational perspective that avoids romanticism, even in subtle forms such as birdsong. In general, he wrote that there is no music “specifically for the body or the head,” and complex people interact with it on different levels.
He discussed his career with talking people and detailed many backgrounds of their music. He described how the lyrics of the 1980 song “Once in a Lifetime” were inspired by the missionaries’ recordings, and the oversized suits in their concert movie “Stop Making the Senses” were inspired by ancient Japanese theatres. Byrne avoided the personality conflicts that led to the band’s demise, instead reviewing the history of records one by one, detailing his impact on performance, records, money and reputation. In particular, he spent a chapter at the CBGB nightclub to explore the potential conditions to support the development of new avant-garde artists (such as Patti Smith, Ramones, Blondie and his own band).
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