The Speed of Sound

The Speed of Sound

Breaking the Barrier Between Music and Technology

Book - 2016
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"The remarkable story of rising to the top of the music charts, a second act as a tech pioneer, and the sustaining power of creativity and art. Thomas Dolby’s hit songs “She Blinded Me with Science” and “Hyperactive!” catapulted him to international fame in the early 80’s. A pioneer of New Wave and Electronica, Thomas combined a love for invention with a passion for music, and the result was a new sound that defined an era of revolutionary music. But as record company politics overshadow the joy of performing, Thomas finds a surprising second act. Starting out in a rat-infested London bedsit, a teenage Thomas Dolby stacks boxes by day at the grocery and tinkers with a homemade synthesizer at night while catching the Police at a local dive bar, swinging by the pub to see the unknown Elvis Costello and starting the weekend with a Clash show at a small night club. London on the eve of the 1980s is a hotbed for music and culture, and a new sound is beginning to take shape, merging technology with the musical energy of punk rock. Thomas plays keyboards in other bands’ shows, and with a bit of luck finds his own style, quickly establishing himself on the scene and recording break out hits that take radio, MTV and dance clubs by storm. The world is now his oyster, and sold out arenas, world tours, even a friendship with Michael Jackson become the fabric of his life. But as the record industry flounders and disillusionment sets in, Thomas turns his attention to Hollywood. Scoring films and computer games eventually leads him to Silicon Valley and a software startup that turns up the volume on the digital music revolution. His company barely survives the dotcom bubble but finally even the mavericks at Apple, Microsoft, Netscape and Nokia see the light. By 2005, two-thirds of the world’s mobile phones embed his Beatnik software. Life at the zenith of a tech empire proves to be just as full of big personalities, battling egos and roller-coaster success as his days spent at the top of the charts. THE SPEED OF SOUND is the story of an extraordinary man living an extraordinary life, a single-handed quest to make peace between art and the digital world."-- Publisher's website.
Publisher: New York :, Flatiron Books,, 2016
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2016
ISBN: 9781250071842
Characteristics: viii, 277 pages ; 25 cm

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megan234
Jan 09, 2017

Growing up in the 80s, I was, of course, exposed to Dolby's "She Blinded Me with Science" (both as a single and the video) but never bought any of his albums until about 5 years ago. I don't know why. "The Golden Age of Wireless" is an absolutely brilliant album, and I was horrified to discover, while reading this book, that Dolby was all of 21 when it came out. I also bought his second album, which came out soon after his first, and it wasn't so impressive. I've seen him a couple of time since then, once when he was talking about his online interactive game (which was a surprise because we thought this was a concert in a small venue) and once at an actual concert at Park West. He is a curious performer. But I knew he had ventured into digital music early in the game and was curious about his life, and thus I have been reading his book.

After gobsmacking the reading audience with a phenomenal amount of name-dropping (and his connection with those names) in the beginning of the book, the narrative slows to a crawl once Dolby gets to his company-building in the dotcom era. While my geeky husband might get into the references to the technical aspects of putting music on web pages and into phone, my eyes glazed over and I found it really hard to care.

What is most noticeable, though, is the lack of Thomas Dolby in Dolby's own memoir. While he recounts how old he was, where he was, who he met, how awful the music industry is, he never really get any idea of who Thomas Dolby is. The best we get is that he thinks the original Star Wars was a substandard movie.

So if you're interested in knowing who Dolby knew early on, and what people he was able to work with then, this book may satisfy you. But if you're looking to find out what makes Thomas Dolby tick, what he thinks, how he feels about things, you won't find it here. It is a superficial account of the days of his life, about as authentic as the synthesizers he is so found of using.

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