THE SPEED OF SOUND by Thomas Dolby
Kirkus Star


Breaking the Barriers Between Music and Technology
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Musician Dolby (Arts/Johns Hopkins Univ.) debuts with an absorbing account of his pioneering work merging digital music with film, technology, and science.

Born in 1958 to a Cambridge archaeologist, the author dropped out of school to pursue musical interests after finding a synthesizer in a dumpster. Often mixing sound for bands, he worked as a solo singer/songwriter, with such quirky hits as “She Blinded Me with Science” (1982) and “Hyperactive!” (1984), and began producing short silent film–like music videos as well as soundtracks for computer games and computer-generated animation. By the 1990s, Dolby’s unusual tinkering with computer software bridged the worlds of the music business and Silicon Valley, where his companies developed mobile-phone ringtones and other products. In this story-filled memoir, the author draws deeply on his experiences as a synthesized music guru and early internet geek, offering wonderful scenes involving such notables as Michael Jackson, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Steve Jobs, and George Lucas and revealing his battles for artistic control with major record companies. With little interest in the business side (“What’s a business model?” he replies to a venture capitalist interested in a Dolby company), he has always regarded himself as “a perfectionist who will choose great art over a pile of cash every time.” As a result, he struggled unhappily in the music and technology industries, both of which he deems “random and unjust.” Yet his innovative accomplishments, rendered in fascinating detail here, are legendary: “Synthesis, music videos, software, the Web, DIY filmmaking, mobile devices, online games…I just dived in and taught myself by trial and error.” The former TED Conference music director now composes on a restored 33-foot lifeboat in the garden of his home in Suffolk and teaches film and media at Hopkins.

This stellar book will appeal to students, scholars, and general readers interested in modern technology’s startling effects on music and popular culture.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-250-07184-2
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2016


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