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Reverend Byrne

March 16, 2010

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Of late, I’ve begun some collaborative musical work, so was intrigued to read one of my musical hero’s thoughts on collaboration. Here is David Byrne on working with a bunch of Brian Eno ‘wannabe’ songs that had languished on a shelf, until Eno turned them over, with some ground rules. Byrne writes:

How do these things work? My last record — the Byrne/Eno Everything That Happens Will Happen Today — was, as far as the process goes, typical in some ways. Brian had a slew of tracks on the shelf, tracks that seemed to want to become songs (as opposed to ambient pieces, or film scores), but he was unhappy with his own attempts at completing them. So, from his point of view, he had nothing much to lose by passing them to me — they were just gathering dust anyway, and unless I did something horrendous (which we agreed he could veto), it was a win-win situation.

I was sent stereo mixes of his musical ideas, which I sometimes left alone, but just as often I slightly restructured them to bring them closer to a song form. However, I never even thought about requesting musical changes in the tracks — key changes, changes in groove or instrumentation. The unwritten game rules in these remote collaborations seem to be to leave the other person’s stuff alone as much as you can. Work with what you’re given; don’t try to imagine it as something other than what it is.

This presents some musical challenges, of course, but the benefits generally outweigh them. The fact that half the musical decision-making has already been done bypasses a lot of waffling and worrying. I didn’t have to think about what to do and what direction to take musically — the train had already left the station and my job was to see where it wanted to go. This restriction on one’s freedom — that some creative decisions have already been made — turns out to be a great blessing. Complete creative freedom is as much a curse as a boon.

Read the whole entry here, plus you get the bonus of seeing Byrne’s home studio. I could go on for awhile on what Talking Heads’ music meant to me, after a friend turned me and Bruce S. on to “More Songs About Buildings and Food” at an apartment complex in Oxford, Ohio, at Miami U., in the summer of 1978. (There were some aromatics in the room, which intensified the whole introduction. But it was love at first listen.) Then, we went to Bogart’s in Cincinnati that Winter and saw the Heads live.  Byrne came on like some skinny, speaking-in-tongues singing preacher/shaman. And then came “Fear of Music,” “Remain in Light” and “Speaking In Tongues.” The soundtrack for my life’s movie as its storyline went good, bad, up and way down.  And, finally, up again. Thank you, Rev. Byrne. (Love the gold hair…)

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