From reading the preface, “How Music Works” written David Byrne, appears to be a remarkable take on where music has been, currently is, and where it might go. I only started reading it today and look forward to the many insights Mr. Byrne has to share as I’ve admired him ever since hearing “Nothing But Flowers” back in 1988. In his straightforward language, the following excerpt from the preface reminds us of the many ways music impacts and shapes us and simultaneously gives us pause to more closely consider the grand context for the music in our lives.
I’ve been involved in music all my adult life. I didn’t plan it that way, and it wasn’t even a serious ambition at first, but that’s the way it turned out. A very happy accident, if you ask me. It’s a little strange, though, to realize that a large part of my identity is tied to something that is completely ephemeral. You can’t touch music—it exists only at the moment it is being apprehended—and yet can profoundly alter how we view the world and our place in it. Music can get us through difficult patches in our lives by changing not only how we feel about ourselves, but also how we feel about everything outside ourselves. It’s powerful stuff.
Early on, though, I realized that the same music placed in a different context can not only change the way a listener perceives that music, but it can also cause the music itself to take on an entirely new meaning. Depending on where you hear it—in a concert hall or on the street—or what the intention is, the same piece of music could either be an annoying intrusion, abrasive and insulting, or you could find yourself dancing to it. How music works, or doesn’t work, is determined not just by what it is in isolation (if such a condition can ever be said to exist) but in large part by what surrounds it, where you hear it, and when you hear it. How it’s performed, how it’s sold and distributed, how it’s recorded, who performs it, whom you hear it with, and, of course, finally, what it sounds like: these are the things that determine not only if a piece of music works—if it successfully achieves what it sets out to accomplish—but what it is….
Music isn’t fragile. Knowing how the body works doesn’t take away from the pleasure of living. Music has been around as long as people have formed communities. It’s not going to go away, but its uses and meaning evolve. I am moved by more music now that I ever have been. Trying to see it from a wider and deeper perspective only makes it clear that the lake itself is wider and deeper than we thought.
“Nothing But Flowers” by Talking Heads, original video