I just finished reading David Byrne's somewhat autobiographical research, How Music Works. It was both fun and interesting to read. And I found Talking Heads and some of his other projects playing on the stereo much more frequently than usual - always a good thing.
The basic idea of the book is that he wanted to provide some thinking on how music works in our culture - and somewhat that of other cultures - and then compare that to his own experience with making and listening to music over the years. He didn't only focus on music, but often expanded his discussion to the arts, culture and society in general.
One thing that I caught right away was the importance of context to the development of various musical styles. This context covers a wide swath from the halls in which music is performed, to the local- or geopolitical situation, to the instruments available, to how people conceive of music in the first place. And again, this extends beyond strictly music. He references PowerPoint presentations as their own kind of performance, constrained to the context of the software and projection technology. I've used Mind Manager as a presentation tool, and it completely changes the performance presentation. I've seen the same effect with Prezi.
Another interesting connection came about while he was discussing music technology and how that has changed music, particularly with the advent of electronic instruments, MIDI, sampling and the like. He had a quote that I thought made sense for those of us who are interested in knowledge management or in technology-enablement of getting things done:
As soon as technology makes one thing easier, it leaves a host of alternatives in the dust. (Chapter 4)
This is something we have to be aware of in our work: we strive to make specific aspects of the work easier or clearer. But in that push, we have to realize two things. One, as David Byrne suggests, there are other ways of doing the same thing that will go away. But the other is the converse: we need to plan for what people can STOP doing as a result of the new technology (or new service). If they are required to continue doing things the old way, what pushes them to adopt the new way? Again, David Byrne talks about the realization that "high fidelity" wasn't as necessary as everyone in the industry believed - that poorer-quality recording technology might actually add something to the recording. And this, then, lets the artist take new approaches to recording that wouldn't be available otherwise.
So… enjoy this book, particularly if you like David Byrne and his intellectual approach to music and the world in general.