by Johannes Goransson on Sep.12, 2012
VICE: You write early on in How Music Works that “Making music is like constructing a machine whose function is to dredge up emotions in performer and listener alike.” Do you think of yourself as channeling something when you are writing a song?
David Byrne: Well, lots of people use that metaphor that they’re channeling something, or that they’re a conduit and they don’t know where the inspiration comes from and they’re just a pen that writes it down or whatever. That’s pretty common. And yeah, there’s definitely something to it. I guess what I’m also saying is that it is usually presumed that the emotion is something that’s put into a song, that it comes from the person and goes into the song. And there’s probably a lot of truth to that, but I’m saying that just as much as that happens, I think it happens in the exact reverse way, where a person makes a song and the song makes the writer feel emotional. The song brings out the emotions in the writer. You realize that this chord changing and singing this melody and these words, it takes you to a place. As a writer as well as a listener. I mean, we all share that in common. And so the song becomes the thing that does it. It’s not that the writer necessarily channels the emotions or the ideas or whatever and puts them down on paper. What got put down on paper is also a thing that reaches inside the writer or the person listening and brings that stuff out of them.
This seems a really true way of speaking about the way making art feels to me. Not the “emotion” that pre-exist the poem and is then conveyed (as is implicit in the “sincerity” and “accessibility” models of writing), but something more like a feedback loop between the writer and artwork.