Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

David Byrne – ‘How Music Works’

Probably the most anticipated music-related book release of the year, you can get a taste of David Byrne’s upcoming book on, well, how music works, over on McSweeney’s. The first few pars are worth a read while you’re waiting for the …

Wed, Aug 29, 2012, 16:16

   

Probably the most anticipated music-related book release of the year, you can get a taste of David Byrne’s upcoming book on, well, how music works, over on McSweeney’s.

The first few pars are worth a read while you’re waiting for the real deal, so I’m reposting them here:

“I had an extremely slow-dawning insight about creation. That insight is that context largely determines what is written, painted, sculpted, sung, or performed. That doesn’t sound like much of an insight, but it’s actually backward from conventional wisdom, which maintains that creation emerges out of some interior emotion, from an upwelling of passion or feeling, and that the creative urge will brook no accommodation, that it simply must find an outlet to be heard, read, or seen. The classical composer gets a strange look in his or her eye and begins scribbling furiously. The rock-and-roll singer is driven by desire and demons, and out bursts this amazing song. This is the romantic notion of how creative work comes to be, but I think the path of creation is almost 180º from this model. I believe that we unconsciously and instinctively make work to fit preexisting formats.

“Of course, passion can still be present. Just because the form that one’s work will take is predetermined and opportunistic (meaning one makes something because the opportunity is there) doesn’t mean that creation must be cold, mechanical, and heartless. Dark and emotional materials usually find a way in, and the tailoring process—form being tailored to fit a given context—is largely unconscious, instinctive. We mostly don’t even notice it. Opportunity and availability are often the mother of invention. The emotional story—“something to get off my chest”—still gets told, but its form is guided by prior contextual restrictions. I’m proposing this is not entirely the bad thing one might expect it to be—thank goodness, for example, that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time we make something.

“In a sense, we work backward, either consciously or unconsciously, creating work that fits the venue that is available to us. That holds true for the other arts as well: pictures are created that fit and look good on white walls in galleries just as music is written that sounds good either in a dance club or a symphony hall (but probably not in both). In a sense, the space, the platform, and the software “makes” the art, the music, or whatever. After something succeeds, more venues of a similar size and shape are built to accommodate more production of the same. After a while the form of the work that predominates in these spaces is taken for granted—of course we mainly hear symphonies in symphony halls.”

It’s published on September 12th, the day after his new record with St Vincent is released.

For now, let’s listen to a bit of that. Here’s ‘Weekend In The Dust’:

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