Book #81: How Music Works (2012)

howmusicworksAuthor: David Byrne
Language: English
Length: 13 hours 11 minutes
Finished listening on: 24 Feb 2015

I had almost forgotten about this audiobook, which I downloaded in the Humble Bundle last year. I’m not much of a music fan overall – of course, I listen to music a lot, but I don’t play any instruments, and I’m not interested in music theory much – so I was a little apprehensive about starting it.

Truth be told, I should have recognized David Byrne’s name on the cover as the lead singer of Talking Heads. As it happened, it slowly dawned on me during the first couple of chapters as he wrote about his experiences as the frontman. The book, as Byrne explains in the foreword, is supposed to be written neutrally as a guide to the social phenomenon of music, and can be dipped into in different places. In practice, it contains a lot of autobiographical information and is possibly the closest thing to an actual autobiography or chronicle of his career with Talking Heads that Byrne will write.

As always, I’ve not been keeping to my own deadlines, so the book has faded somewhat from my memory, so only a few prominent details stand out. Some of them are reiterated, in order to keep up the idea that one can dip into the book anywhere. Byrne makes a lot of the fact that his music career was essentially an accident and he can’t really sing well in his opinion. There were also some snippets of the way in which Talking Heads would compose their songs.

The one that stands out to me and is relevant to my interests was the chapter towards the end that touched on linguistics. In particular, evidently there have been a bunch of studies done on the frequency distribution and prosodic rhythm of a bunch of different languages, and there may actually be evolutionary evidence for why most cultures around the world use them same small set of musical scales – that fits with my experience, anyway, where many Japanese people seem to think that Auld Lang Syne is a traditional native tune, unaware that it was imported from Scotland in the 19th century.

It’s a well-written and informative book overall, and even for me, it was interesting. It’s worth reading if you have the chance.


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