The Speed of Sound by Thomas Dolby

The Speed of SoundHe’s not quite a one-hit wonder since he did both “She Blinded Me with Science” and “Hyperactive,” but Thomas Dolby has had a varied and interesting career. He starts with an anecdote of trying to send music to Michael Jackson by plugging a payphone into acoustic couplers to transfer digital files. Already in 1985, Dolby is a tech geek. Some of this stems from his music. His story really begins at the age of 18 in London where he lives next door to an electronics company. His days are spent either on the dole or working a thankless job for a shop owner. Occasionally, this would-be musician found the shop’s cast-offs in the trash and began building synthesizers. This led to him recording demos, which led to session work and an early new wave band, which led to a record deal. On his way, right?

Well, no. After a false start, he busked in Paris for a year, spent another year staying up nights putting together his first solo album, and wowed EMI with a video concept in search of a song. So he had to scramble to write “She Blinded Me with Science” and coax a reluctant Magnus Pyke to yell “SCIENCE!” (Imagine Neil deGrasse Tyson or Michio Kaku pressed into service for such a video.)

So he skyrocketed to a fame and fortune. Right? Actually, Dolby grew disillusioned with the music industry and switched to technology. He focused on sound in video games and on the web. Eventually, he created a way to generate polyphonic ringtones. (That Nokia sound? He’s responsible for that.) But Dolby’s account of his career in Silicon Valley could fill a season of… Well… Silicon Valley.

Dolby narrates this himself in the Audible version, and it’s basically your English cousin telling you about his job. He’s had a couple of interesting jobs. And now he and his wife split time between England, where he lives on a boat on dry land (It makes sense when he explains it) and Baltimore, where he is a professor of new media. He still records and performs, but because he wants to, not because he has to. It’s an enviable life.