The Speed of Sound: Breaking the Barriers Between Music and Technology by Thomas Dolby (5 out of 5)
I was not a huge fan of Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science” when it came out in the 80’s. I was too busy mooning over Duran Duran, Culture Club, and Spandau Ballet. I did, however, love that odd little video. And I was OBSESSED with “Hyperactive”, his other hit at the time.I really enjoyed his work after the first two albums… My role in the Thomas Dolby fan club was secured with his release of “Astronauts & Heretics”. I LOVE that album. My favorite TD song? “I Love You Goodbye”. I have played it so much and put it on so many playlists that many of my friends hate it from hearing it do much. Now that I’ve shared these innocous ramblings with you, into the book!! It is out now, in hardcover, and brought to us by Flatiron Books (an imprint of St. Martin Press). I have almost no complaints with this title..except I wish he had written more about his current occupation, as Professor of the Arts at Johns Hopkins University. Maybe Mr. Dolby will regale us with another book down the road about his experiences as a college professor. I hope so!!
This book charts his childhood straight into his career. As many artists in the Decade of Excess, he finds out that the music industry is nothing like he thought. He takes us through the highs and lows. He also gives us unparalleled education on synth. Wow. Just wow. It’s clear to the reader very early on that this man loves his synths. His music career is the first half of the book. As the release of his last album sinks into the sunset due to record company shenanigans, his spirits crushed, as well as mourning the loss of a longtime friend, he decides to call it quits. Ironically, Dolby calls out many of the record companies involved in doubtful practices. EMI is one of them. Duran Duran were his labelmates, and just this past week, Sony/ATV were declared winners in a court fight against Duran Duran, for copyright to their own songs. So the damn record companies with their greed and bloodlust are still winning. Dolby’s chapters and own experiences with then through the years are disheartening. While I miss his music, I totally understand why he got the hell out of Dodge. And it’s still going on! Ok, sorry, rant over. While I am glad DD are still recording, it makes me see red that they do not own the copyrights to their own music. Terrible! Ok, now the rant is over! There are some great stories in this book. I was very entertained by the stories of his friendship with Michael Jackson, George Clinton, and Boots Collins. Before this, I only knew the name Prefab Sprout, now I have to check them out after finding out that he was in lived in their career. His story about Eddie Van Halen doing guitar tracks on his album? Priceless. The story about recording Pyromania with Def Leppard? Sadly, not mentioned. But there are plenty of vignettes to keep us entertained.
After the music fades, Dolby starts tinkering with technology. Namely, his own company and music technology. There are power brokers everywhere, and Dolby had some first hand experience with them in Silicon Valley. His own company, Headspace/Beatnik, undergoes highs And lows eerily parallel to his music career. One thing is crystal clear-Dolby was way ahead of his time with music technology (his tech team as well, because it seems that over glorified toadstool Steve Jobs may not have had the first business model on an Ipod, after all) and genuinely wanted to “signify” the Interwebs. Well done and well played, Thomas Dolby. While in the midst of running his tech company, he gets an invite to attend a TED conference. His experience there leads him to becoming Music Director of the TED Conference. This guy has multiple irons in the fire, and he is responsible for a lot of important advances in technology, not limited to music ringtones. It’s absolutely amazing how ahead of his time he was in the field of music technology. Another thing….I am ABSOLUTELY useless at technology, albeit fascinated. I learned a lot from this book. A lot! He really is a great teacher, and he’s just telling his story. To those wondering, he is starkly candid about his life and all aspects of it, and yes, the droll wit is in evidence too. You can’t lose gifting someone with his memoir this holiday season. I recommend this to everyone, but even more so if you are fascinated by the inner dealings of music technology. It ain’t pretty, but it is a story that needs to be told. Thank you for sharing with the class, Professor Dolby.