Reflections are only that, reflections, nothing more nothing less. Often these reflections are related to books I read, but occasionally also other things. These are often written very late, very fast,  using notes from my mobile phone, so the grammar and spelling is horrible.

How Music Works, by David Byrne

This book remind me of my relation to David Byrne's music, I can see/hear that it is (partly) well done with thoughts invested into it, and it ticks most of the boxes for what I like, still…. There is something not quite right, something missing for me to get carried away. In a way the book is the perfect medium for me to approach David, like his music I can enjoy it one time, but don’t feel like I want to go back and experience it again. For a book that is OK, but this feeling is why I have never developed any close relation to Talking Head or most of David’s projects.

The book in itself is, also according to David, a mix between some kind of biography (with focus on some of his recording and live performances) and general reflections related to music. I don’t find his discussions about recording and live music very interesting (the only record that I was interested to hear more about, “Here Lies Love” about Imelda Marcos, is mentioned in a few words that said less than a sleeve note.)

What I found most frustrating and fascinating is how David keeps telling us that he will not discuss the “political” aspects of music, or how he keep on telling us that he don’t think that music is a particularly powerful political tool, etc. Still he focus on the context for music and how music is less an artists creation than a reflection of the structure it is created in. So the most interesting parts in the books are cut short, as he don’t want to take his own argument all the way.

His focus on live music might be of interest for those who like to see him live, but I thought it was pretty uninteresting. Why David used a big suit for a while was fun to know (think Japan), but what would have been interesting, is to know why he stopped using it and become more conform.

When he discusses technology and music he makes some interesting remarks about how it is not only shaping reality, but also helps us reflect on what reality is and what is genuine. Again the book is not making things very clear as David discusses the relation between beauty and truth/reality in a way that is less than coherent. Still he does it in a way that is inspiring.

Then there are way too many pages where he discusses different recordings and collaborations. But I guess dedicated Talking Head fans enjoy that.

David's relation to change in society is interesting. He did participate and led (I think) a group if artist that published an ad in NYT. But again he only provides some vague thinking about why he does not like protest songs (some good arguments) but when he discuss an interesting alternative, where he want people to think, the text just fizzles out and he begins to talk about a collaboration or technical solution to recording.

In the end of the book there are some interesting reflections from a historic perspective where he discusses why we ended up with a one-way communication culture for music.

As many that are involved in more “intellectual” pop music he tend to look down on simple “commercial” pop, but also dismiss the “high culture” (I think that is what he calls it) with classical music. It is as if he wants to belong to the best category of music, smarter than commercial pop, but not as pretentious as classical music. But at the same time he does not dare to say that some music is better/or even fundamentally different, than other.

Although I think he fails to provide any meaningful definition or arguments related to quality of music it was probably the part in the book that I enjoyed the most.

I agree that all music should be judged based on what it tries to do. And I think it is here much of the confusion regarding “quality of music” is created. There are two main aspects of quality of music that can be discussed: 1. What the music tries to achieve 2. How well it is achieving what it tries to achieve.

If we simplify we can identify a couple of different objective with music: > Dance, forget myself (disco/pop/trance on the dance floor) > Distract, avoid silence (elevator music, music in restaurants) > Define myself in relation to my parents/adults (heavy metal/ rap, pop) > Grown up pop (slightly less simplistic and with reflections of life that is more than simple love songs, e.g. Peter Gabriel, James, Waterboys) > Forget my current boring life (best of collections and radio stations) > Be reminded of the values I carry (Activist music with a message such as Brel, Latin Quarter and even some pop/rock music such as Muse) > Grow as a person, push myself (classical and modern classical music)

We can have different opinions about the value of different kind of music as well as how well they deliver that kind of music. Obviously the above categories are simplified and often an artist, record or even tune belongs to more than one criteria.

What I find interesting is that so many seem to be afraid to admit that certain music is more advanced/better than other music. Maybe because of our (earlier) colonial thinking where everything non-European was first regarded as inferior, then later by many “alternative people” superior. Often these judgement are done without any understanding of what the music is supposed to achieve. Moving forward we will hopefully become better in identifying, encouraging and celebrating quality.

One thing that David wrote made me curious. He wrote that no music so far has been composed for us walking around with it in our headphones. I don’t know if the artists themselves thought about it but I can list a number of artist/records that I feel are perfect for exactly that (and that I do not appreciate very much to hear out loud in a room, and I’m not very interested in seeing them live either): XX, both records Alaska in Winter, Dance Party in the Balkans Get Well Soon, especially “Rest Now, Weary Head! You Will Get Well Soon” and “The Scarlet Beast O'Seven Heads”

My guess is that many classical composers would have appreciated the possibility for people to listen to their music as a soundtrack to their lives. Bach and Vivaldi are only two of the most obvious, but I think many others from Smetana to Palestrina would be open to it. Before recorded music many composers must have thought about how people would carry their music after they listened to it.

In the last chapters of the book David drifts of into areas, history and biology, where I have read much better texts. I get the impression that David feels he has to cover them in his book, rather than any genuine interest (or knowledge for that matter) on his side.

I can see from the length that I probably was a bit more inspired by the book than I initially understood. Or maybe it is just because it is subject that I don’t spend much time thinking, or reading, about.