Thomas Dolby’s ‘The Speed Of Sound’ Is A Lightning Fast Who’s Who Of Everything

In his book, ‘The Tipping Point’, Malcolm Gladwell divides people into three personality types: Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. Connectors know lots of people – they are a natural hub, and love networking and talking with people. They are those people who actually DO know everyone.

Using this definition, Thomas Dolby is indeed a Connector. His book, ‘The Speed Of Sound’ is on the surface the story of his life to date: the first half about his music, and the second about his life as a pioneer in the computer industry in Silicon Valley.

Dig a little deeper though – and it won’t have to be too deep, and you realise that it’s really about his connections. Indeed, the very start of the book, the prologue, opens with Dolby attempting to send music files down a public telephone line to Michael Jackson, someone who we later find out was actually a close friend. And Jackson is but one such friendship. Slip between the covers of the book and open to any page and you’ll find anecdotes such as performing as part of Bowie’s band for Live Aid; going fishing with George Clinton; recording at Eddie Van Halen’s home studio; and namedropping about “a fellow Fairlight user I’d known from my London days”, movie composer Hans Zimmer. There’s also big names from his tech days, such as hanging out with Bill Gates drinking Chablis, and checking out the World Wide Web for the first time on the laptop belonging to Netscape founder, Jim Clark.

Circumstances play a large part in a lot of these connections, and it might be argued that if Dolby hadn’t first become a charting musician and made the move to the US he’d not be where he is today, Homewood Professor of the Arts, at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. His musical experience led to his move into the field of computer technology; his musical connections further assisted this.

A  failed IPO (Dolby’s company Beatnik was floated on the New York Stock Exchange the day before the start of Dot-Com Crash in March 2000) nowithstanding, Dolby forged a deal with Nokia which saw Beatnik’s synthesisers embedded in the 3510i model. This later led to Dolby creating digital polyphonic ringtones for mobile phones, and from there becoming a major speaker on the technology conference circuit.  His achievements, both in music and tech, are recorded in great detail, and the reader is made to feel as though we have been there for the entire ride, as Dolby recounts,

“Synthesis, music videos, software, the Web, DIY filmmaking, mobile devices, online games…I just dived in and taught myself by trial and error.”

‘The Speed Of Sound’, subtitled ‘breaking the barrier between music and technology’, does exactly what it says on the tin. It skilfully blurs the line between music and tech, and brings out all those other musical artists who similarly had an interest in technology; Michael Jackson and David Bowie but two examples. The book is published by Icon, and will appeal to those interested in music, technology, or just after a good read.

You can find out more about Thomas Dolby from his official website. Find out more about ‘The Speed Of Sound’ here.

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