David Byrne: Architecture in Music

By Aaron Britt / Published by Dwell
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This TED talk that David Byrne gave last year is such a wonderful walk through the history of music, and how the architecture in which that music was performed helped shape it, that I had to post it today. Not only does Byrne ably tease out why a Wagnerian concert hall is better suited to Wagner than say an MP3 player, or a riverboat, or your car, he takes us on a tour of why many shifts in music seem as tied to their points of performance as any larger artistic evolution.

Often the grand narratives of art—this is how we got from Bach to the blues in ten easy steps—are told as these inevitable, even natural, progressions of styles and interests. But in Byrne's talk we get another story, one that says that the acoustic group sessions of West African music played in the village, or the soaring, ethereal tones you'll hear in a Gothic cathedral, are as much products of where we hear them as what was rattling around in the composer's brain.

I won't steal too much of Byrne's thunder by recapitulating it here, but suffice it to say that he offers a more nuanced view of musical history than the baroque-to-classical-to-romantic-to-modernist-to-jazz-to-rock-and-roll that holds sway. Have a look and you'll not only take a different view of how performance spaces have changed, but how what we hear when we go there has shifted as well.

Aaron Britt


Aaron writes the men's style column "The Pocket Square" for the San Francisco Chronicle and has written for the New York Times, the Times Magazine, Newsweek, National Geographic and others.

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