The Speed of Sound, by Thomas Dolby

Title: The Speed of Sound: Breaking the Barriers between Music and Technology

Author: Thomas Dolby

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Publication Date: November 11, 2016


The Upshot: The blinded with science guy recounts his multi-varied career, including an extended stint at the proverbial tech wizard, fittingly enough.


Thomas Dolby…who knew? Upon reading his new memoir I realized that Dolby has led one hell of a life. Oh sure, we all know him from his early ‘80s new wave days and “She Blinded Me with Science” (I bought the 12” in ’82, and back then it wasn’t unusual to hear new wave geeks, like me, walk down the street and randomly yell out the word “Science!”). He was a hero for all geeks the world over (his next single, “Hyperactive”, too). In addition to his own work I hadn’t realized that Dolby also worked with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell (not a good experience for him), David Bowie, George Clinton and plenty of others (Lene Lovich, Prefab Sprout, etc.).

After tiring of the music industry—and getting screwed over as well—Dolby up and moved to first Los Angeles and then the Bay Area and started up Beatnik Inc. which helped add audio to websites, and, later, cell phones. At Beatnik, Dolby had his ups and downs (mostly downs, from his perspective) but in the end made good, thanks to the world of ringtones (and Nokia). Dolby and his family then had had enough of California and moved back to England in the mid ‘00s, but alas, America was still calling. As of 2014 Dolby is now a professor at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, adding yet another feather in his already full cap.

The Speed of Sound is told in a real off-the-cuff style and is very entertaining and highly readable —that Michael Jackson story was superb!. Judging from his words, it seems like Dolby took his wins almost as relaxed as he took his losses. Despite really trying to be a Bay Area tech wizard, he realized that he’s a musician through and through, and in the end he went back to that first love. It’s all told from the perspective of a guy who I’d enjoy sitting down with and chatting over lunch sometime.

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