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Song and Circumstance – Sytze Steenstra

Sytze Steenstra. Song and Circumstance: The Work of David Byrne from Talking Heads to the Present. New York: Continuum Books, 2010.

The first comprehensive study of David Byrne’s wide-ranging body of work.

For over three decades now, David Byrne has been a leading light in American culture — in popular music, experimental theatre, film, television, fine art, and writing. Underpinning his work is a conceptual approach to both high and popular art. Byrne has always accompanied his creative output with a stream of reflections, developing a loose theoretical patchwork of ideas on music, ritual, culture, and myth, while reading widely in anthropology, socio-biology, neurology, ethnomusicology, art theory, media theory, comparative mythology, and other fields.

Based on the cultural capital he gained with his groundbreaking band Talking Heads, Byrne is able to enter into collaborations with many artists, some of popular fame —Brian Eno and Jonathan Demme, for example — and others known best in more specialized circles — such as Joseph Kosuth, Twyla Tharp, and Caetano Veloso. The map of Byrne’s collaborations, including the casual and incidental ones, reveals an ongoing effort to combine avant-gardism with popular appeal.

This highly original and illustrated account of David Byrne’s career is structured by choosing a specific abstract approach, or a combination of two approaches, for each chapter, discussing the parallels and contradictions between such approaches to benefit the interpretation of Byrne’s art. As a result, the fertile conceptual brew that characterizes Byrne’s way of making art is present from the beginning, while each chapter adds to thorough insight and developing perspective. This is the first book to offer a full account of this hugely successful and influential artist’s sprawling portfolio.

Sytze Steenstra, PhD, is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Maastricht University, The Netherlands, and a freelance author/editor.

More information at Contiuum Books.